WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (WOOD) — For Dick Hance, Friday nights this fall won’t be the same.
“Well, it will be different. I mean, there’s no doubt about that,” Hance said.
The varsity football coach at White Cloud High School, along with the rest of the team, is sitting this season out. A week before teams across the state kick off the year, district officials decided to cancel the varsity program.
Scheduled opponents have the option to find another team to fill the space on the schedule. If they don’t find another team to play, they’ll get a win by forfeit.
Despite ongoing efforts to get students interested in the sport, only six players signed up for varsity this season in White Cloud, far short of the numbers needed to field evan an eight-man team, the format many schools are shifting to this season.
There were suggestions to bring up members of the junior varsity team, which has 25 players on the roster, but Hance said that’s not a solution.
“Probably still not going to be competitive at varsity with the kids you bring up. And the one you leave behind are going to get beat up pretty good. Then you get the discouragement… ‘Well, it was not fun.’ The next year, you’re low on numbers again,” he said.
Football recruitment has been a cyclical problem in White Cloud.
“We went through this in 2010. We also had to cancel our varsity football season,” Superintendent Ed Canning said.
White Cloud is the first 11-man format program to cancel its varsity season, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Three other programs have dropped their eight-man teams from competition this season.
MHSAA spokesman Jeff Kimmerly tells News 8 that White Cloud’s struggle to attract players is not unique. While the risk of concussion and other injuries plays a role, Kimmerly said many of the shortages have hit communities where high school enrollment is down. Another reason is that students have less and less time these days between sports and other activities.
”I think you can’t pinpoint it to one thing. I think that there’s just a lot of options that youth have today,” Canning said.
No football also means no lines at the ticket window or concession stands. Football, along with men’s and woman’s basketball and volleyball, account for about 80% of the White Cloud athletic department’s revenue. School officials say it’s still not clear how much the loss of a varsity team will impact the athletic budget.
But it’s not just the money.
“From out homecoming to our marching band to our athletic boosters to our cheerleading clubs, all that, not having games on Friday night has a true impact,” Canning said.
District officials say this doesn’t this mean the beginning of the end for football in White Cloud, and there will still be some games this year. The JV squad has strong numbers and there’s plenty of participation on seventh and eighth grade Rocket Football League teams.
“The way they’re working and responding, they give me some hope that we can turn the program around,” Hance said.