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Stonewall Jackson will field varsity football team this fall

Team added players overnight and now has 23 on varsity squad

By Brad Fauber

Stonewall Jackson High School will be playing varsity football this fall.

The school faced the very real possibility of having to forgo the 2014 varsity football season due to lack of participation, but additions to the roster Friday morning have given Stonewall Jackson a manageable number of players.

Stonewall Jackson Athletic Director Todd Fannin said players, coaches and school administration met to discuss the program's future after Friday morning's practice and there was a unanimous vote to field a varsity football team this season.

"We wanted to see how many helmets went on heads and right now we're sitting at 23, which is comfortable. It's not far off from where we usually are," Fannin said on Friday afternoon.

"We're in OK shape and we're moving forward," he added.

Stonewall Jackson began varsity football practice Thursday morning with 18 players, although Fannin said five more players were still awaiting their required physical examinations before they could participate. Those five joined the rest of the Generals on Friday morning.

Initial concern about the football program's future arose when the original team sign-up sheet contained 14 names, Fannin said. At that point, Fannin began informing opposing schools of the situation in case of a possible withdrawal from the schedule by Stonewall.

Stonewall Jackson Head Football Coach Dick Krol said Thursday that he and Fannin had met with school Principal Mike Dorman on Wednesday, during which time they decided to give the Generals two days of practice before making a final decision on the football program's future.

Fannin, Krol and the rest of the coaching staff met with the team after Friday's 8 a.m. practice, Fannin said, and all 23 players voted to continue playing football this season. Fannin, Krol and Dorman then met to make the final decision and opted to field a varsity football team for the 2014 season.

"We sat down and looked at what the kids voted on, talked everything through and looked at our numbers. We said in a normal year under normal circumstances if we had 23 names on paper we wouldn't even be sitting there to begin with," Fannin said.

Player safety was the chief concern for coaches and school officials when deciding the future of Stonewall's football program, Fannin said.

Lack of depth could present an issue as the season progresses if the Generals' roster is further diminished due to injuries, but Fannin said that risk is nothing new for Stonewall.

"Our risk this year is no greater than any other year when we had these numbers," Fannin said. "Obviously if you've got a roster of 50 kids, the impact of losing any one is much less. You don't want to lose any, obviously. But we've played with 23 to 25 for many, many years."

According to Krol, Stonewall Jackson hasn't had a winning season in at least five seasons. Since making the playoffs in 2011, the Generals have won just three games over the last two years.

Stonewall Jackson opens its 2014 season on Aug. 29 in a road game against Strasburg.

Participation in the football program at Stonewall Jackson -- which will drop from 2A to 1A in the Virginia High School League's realignment next fall -- has been dwindling for several years, but Fannin and Krol said that trend has been prevalent in all sports at Stonewall Jackson.

"It's the same trend we have in every sport right now between varsity and JV," Fannin said. "We offer 23 programs and the lower number of kids in the school is still dividing by the same number of 23. It's not just football.

"We've seen a decline in participation in every sport across the board," he said.

Fannin pointed to the decline in school enrollment as a major factor for the diminishing numbers in the school's athletic programs. He estimated that the current percentage of students participating in sports at the school is probably around the same as it's been in the past, but Stonewall Jackson now has a smaller pool to draw from.

"Our enrollment has dropped just in the past four or five years from 575 down to 450. We're drawing from 125 fewer kids now than we were just four or five years ago," Fannin said.

"If you look at the classes on our end of the county," he added, "they are much smaller than in the past. Do I look for us to keep declining? I can't answer. Are we going to increase any time soon under the current circumstances? No."

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com

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