STERLING, Va. – A decision to punt on varsity football this season at Park View High School was made in the name of safety according to a Loudon County Public Schools spokesman.
Those safety concerns are detailed by the state of Virginia in its rules governing student athletics. Although not prohibited, state law encourages school districts to back out of playing a varsity football schedule if there aren’t at least 25 students on the team.
Last week’s tryouts only brought 18 students out, approximately half of which had no previous football experience. The school population is just over 1400 students according to greatschools.org.
“This is an extremely competitive area for football,” said Wayde Byard, the Public Information Officer for Loudon County Schools. “Putting people who are inexperienced, who hadn’t trained a lot out on the field with very experienced people was to us just not a risk we were willing to take.”
Although you might equate the poor participation numbers with fear over long-term safety from head injuries and concussions many people we talked to for our story didn’t agree.
“We usually had a lot of people come out,” said Bobby Lawson, a 2012 graduate of a rival high school. “It’s usually the opposite-- we had a lot of people who didn’t make the team.”
Byard noted that this is the first time in recent memory that a Northern Virginia team has had to the resort to forfeiting a varsity season. He said that other sports at the school remain extremely popular like soccer.
Students who are looking at varsity football as an opportunity to earn a college scholarship are being allowed to transfer to Dominion High School and play there without having to sit out one year, forgoing normal Virginia high school transfer rules.
“We want extra circulars to enhance your school experience,” said Byard. “We don’t want you to have a broken collarbone or concussion-- that’s not going to enhance your high school life at all.”
Byard said efforts will be made to move junior varsity games to Friday night in order to still create the Friday Night Lights atmosphere for other groups like band and cheerleaders.
Some parents like Matt Fuentes believe that effort can go a long way in continuing school spirit, traditions and give students a social event to look forward to throughout the fall.
“It’s a meeting place for a lot of people on Friday nights, especially the younger generation,” said Fuentes. “It’s going to socialize not just watch the game so it’s going to hurt the community [if that’s taken away.] These kids [would have] to have something to do on Friday nights.”
Meanwhile, coaches plan on taking the next two years to develop interest in middle school ranks and work with junior varsity players with the hope of bringing varsity football back in two years according to Byard.