Manassas Park’s reluctant decision last week to cancel its 2018 varsity football season has since had a ripple effect in the schedules of nearby programs such as Brentsville and Kettle Run.
Low player turnout during preseason practices led to the move Manassas Park made Aug. 14, only 11 days before the Cougars’ scheduled season-opening game against Kettle Run. So Kettle Run had little time to find a new opponent for its Aug. 24 contest.
Instead, Kettle Run now plans to play only nine games with byes during Week 1 and Week 10 (Oct. 26).
Brentsville had better options to adjust its schedule with the Tigers’ game against Manassas Park scheduled for Nov. 2. They switched that Week 11 game to a bye and added a game against Central Woodstock to their previous bye week, Sept. 21.
Manassas Park, meanwhile, will play only a junior varsity schedule this fall with expected varsity athletes eligible to play.
“My heart is heavy for everyone at Manassas Park,” Kettle Run coach Charlie Porterfield said. “I know that it was a tough decision to make, but ultimately was the correct one.
“Having played them for the last three years I know those are tough kids,” he said. “They will bounce back.”
Manassas Park canceled its varsity season after its preseason practice roster included only 30 athletes with an average of only 15 healthy players available each practice, principal Pamela Kalso wrote in a letter sent to members of the Manassas Park community.
“Many of these athletes have little, if any, varsity experience,” she wrote.
So Manassas Park administrators consulted with the VHSL, which recommends that a school play a varsity football schedule only if it has at least 25 viable players.
Otherwise, “playing at the varsity level would expose student athletes to a higher risk of injury,” Kalso wrote, “and that participation posed a serious safety threat.”
Two other VHSL teams recently decided to cancel their 2018 varsity schedules. Park View reportedly had only 18 players attend preseason tryouts, which limited the school to only a JV team, while Charles City had to scrap the season for its entire program.
“It’s a shame, but it’s definitely a trend,” said Liberty coach Sean Finnerty, whose Eagles had to cancel their freshman season due to low turnout. “I guess times are changing. Maybe athletics aren’t as important as they once were.”
Liberty’s freshman participation dropped from around 35 players the previous two seasons to around 20 this season. At nearby Patriot, participation dropped from around 145 players in the overall program (varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams) last season to around 115.
Pioneers coach Brud Bicknell speculated that participation may have dropped for many VHSL teams due to concern from recent studies that link football to brain injuries such as CTE.
“Residual [effect] from the whole concussion-awareness deal,” he said. “And, I hate to say this, but I think football’s become too hard for a lot of kids.
“I don’t know what the future holds in this” sport, he said.
Participation in Liberty’s overall program dropped from around 85 last season to around 75 in 2018.
“It really is a shame that we can’t get more kids,” Finnerty said. “Not having middle school sports [in Fauquier County] hurts us. For football, they have to go out and play in other organizations.”
Manassas Park hopes its newly formed middle school program will help build the participation numbers at the high school level so the Cougars can play a varsity schedule again in 2019 and beyond.
On-field success could also aid teams that have struggled to maintain adequate rosters. Manassas Park finished last season with a 1-9 record after going 2-8 in 2016, 0-10 in 2015, 1-9 in 2104 and 2-8 in 2013. Park View, similarly, has eight consecutive losing seasons with records of 0-10, 2-8, 2-8, 0-10, 2-8 and 0-10, from 2017 to 2012.