LAWTON, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been a season unlike any other for some high school football teams in the state. A few of them have had to cancel their games, leaving others scrambling to find opponents.
It’s a problem from the UP to West Michigan and Metro Detroit. Schools have been forced to cancel games or even end their seasons all together because they just don’t have enough players.
“We could take the forfeit, but we have some aspirations of maybe making a run deep into the playoffs. Having two bye weeks was definitely not going to help us,” Lawton High School head football coach Wade Waldrup said.
Lawton is on the receiving end of this problem. They were supposed to play Saugatuck and Comstock to close the year, but were left scrambling when both schools couldn’t finish their varsity seasons.
It turned into a last minute logistical scramble, booking a road trip to Traverse City for St. Francis High School and hosting senior night against Detroit Loyola.
“There are some rules for drivers as far as how many hours they can drive,” Waldrup said. “That was an issue, so we had to have two drivers for the one bus. We usually take a number of JV kids, we’re going to have to eliminate some of that because we only have one bus. We have a very, very supportive booster club and parent group. They’re going to feed us on the way up there.”
Scheduling flexibility was what drove Colon High School to completely flip the switch from 11-player football to eight-player after the 2017 season, part of a growing trend across the state.
“We’re running out of local teams that are our size that we can play a football game with,” Colon head football coach Robbie Hattan said.
According to the MHSAA, 66 teams competed in the eight-player league in 2018. That number has now nearly doubled.
“We started seeing the writing on the wall. Not necessarily for our own numbers, but more or less who are we going to play,” Hattan said.
One year after Colon made the move, Climax-Scotts Community Schools followed suit. Head Football coach and athletics director Tyler Langs believes high school football is in a downward spiral.
“Who’s got the support from parents and the community? Who’s got a coach that can build a culture? And who doesn’t? … You’re going to start seeing people separate. Because kids don’t just play necessarily for the heck of it and there’s got to be a reason to pull them there,” Langs said. “What you get is some of those schools that have maybe not built culture in those programs … and then you start to lose those kids.”