School may cancel 2014 season due to dwindling participation
By Brad Fauber
QUICKSBURG -- The future of Stonewall Jackson High School's varsity football program is in jeopardy.
Head Coach Dick Krol said Thursday he and school officials have concerns about the Generals safely fielding a varsity football squad this season.
The Generals, who have suffered from dwindling participation in recent years, opened practice for the 2014 varsity football season on Thursday morning with 18 players.
"Big concern," Krol said after Thursday morning's practice about the low player turnout.
"We were debating what the devil to do and ... with the quality we thought we had enough to really make an attempt at it. But if we lose one or two [players] here and there, there's a distinct possibility [of the 2014 season being canceled]. For the safety of the kids, we may have to. But we're hoping not to," he said.
Krol said a decision on the status of Stonewall Jackson's 2014 football season could be decided as soon as Friday. He noted the need to make the final decision as quickly as possible is to allow opposing schools time to fill the void in their schedules if Stonewall pulls out.
Krol said he and Stonewall Jackson Athletic Director Todd Fannin and school Principal Mike Dorman had originally planned to make the final call on Wednesday, but they opted to delay the decision until after the first two days of practice.
"We decided the smart thing to do was let the kids come out and let the kids decide," Krol said. "If we can't get enough kids to be safe or if some of the kids we have out here decide they're going to hang it up, we don't have a choice. ... To take it away without giving them an opportunity would've been bad. We're now putting it in their hands, but we will make the decision based on the safety factor."
There is no Virginia High School League regulation in place regarding the minimum number of players a high school football team is required to have, Krol said, but he added that he would ideally like to have anywhere from 25 to 30 players.
In 2013, the Generals opened the season with 29 players and operated with about 25 student athletes on the roster by season's end. Krol said a roster of 23 players would be manageable for Stonewall this season.
"We've had short numbers before but never anything like this," said Krol, who has coached football at Stonewall Jackson for 28 years. Kroll added that he doesn't believe the school has had to cancel a varsity football season since it opened in 1959.
Krol is holding out hope that the Generals can add a few more players to this year's roster, as there are several prospective players awaiting their required physicals before they can participate.
There also has been talk of scrapping the junior varsity football program this season and moving all of the freshmen up to varsity, Krol said, although he added that route is unlikely because most of the freshmen in the program aren't ready to compete at the varsity level.
As Krol pointed out, adding bodies simply for the sake of filling out a roster could be a dangerous move.
"Even the kids that are marginal have to be able to protect themselves," Krol said, "and if we can't do that, we're going to be in trouble. We're going to make a decision to make sure that doesn't happen."
Stonewall Jackson's projected 2014 roster appeared workable in May, Krol said, but by late July that number had greatly decreased.
Krol said the Generals' coaching staff met with players and their parents on Monday, and everyone has been made aware of the current state of Stonewall's football program. Players and parents have attempted to recruit prospective players, Krol said, although not enough interest has been drummed up to give the Generals some breathing room.
Stonewall Jackson, a member of the eight-team Shenandoah District, is scheduled to play 10 games this season, including a road game at Strasburg in the season opener on Aug. 29 and a home contest against Central on Sept. 5. Some of Stonewall's opponents have already begun working on backup plans in case the Generals are forced to forgo the 2014 season.
"We're going to try as honestly as possible to be honest with every team we play, plus our own fans. ... We have told every team that we play that this is the situation and this could happen," Krol said. "We're going to try to make the best decision we can for our kids and our program. Even though we're going to try to help everybody else out, we're going to have to take care of ourselves first."
Stonewall Jackson hasn't had a winning season in at least five years, according to Krol. The Generals have won a total of three games in the last two seasons after making the playoffs in 2011.
Krol said he can't pinpoint the reason for the football program's decreasing numbers, but he did say that the rise of fall baseball in the area has lured away several former football players.
Stonewall Jackson's enrollment is also on the decline, Krol said, and he expects that trend to continue. The Generals are scheduled to drop from 2A to 1A in the VHSL realignment next fall.
Krol said he was unsure what a potential shutdown would mean for the future of Stonewall Jackson's football program, although he thinks the junior varsity team -- which should have about 30 players on its roster this season, he said -- could be sustained to help reboot the varsity program in the future if needed.
"Everything seems to be going against us -- number of kids in enrollment and all this other stuff," Krol said. "But ... we've always known we have to play the cards we're dealt, but daggone it, we'd like to be dealt a few cards."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org