October 12, 2006

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

A week ago I sort of chuckled when I read the news that a Tri-Rivers Conference school had proposed the possibility of changing the leagueís football schedule to allow the smaller schools to avoid playing the conferenceís larger schools. This idea wasnít particularly amusing, yet I still laughed at the idea of somehow segregating the powerhouse programs of Brookfield and Clark County. Who amongst us would not like to eliminate these two dominating forces from our football schedules each week?

But as I read the idea being discussed by the Knox County Athletic Department and School Board it did sort of make sense. These folks initiated the idea of possibly splitting the leagueís schedule into two tiers based on the member school sizes. The argument wasnít that Brookfield or Clark County has worn the league crown nearly every year in the past decade. Instead the proposal centered around student health issues.

Smaller schools, playing against larger programs are at an inherent disadvantage. More kids to choose from generally means better athletes for a program, and at minimum greater depth. Thatís why the state divides the schools into classes based on population. While there will always be exceptions to the rule, for the most part schools like Knox County, North Shelby and yes Scotland County will always face this disadvantage.

As Class 1 schools, the smallest population distinction, we will never know what itís like to have a schedule filled with ďsmallĒ school competition like Clark County and Brookfield can do. Thanks to their membership in the Tri-Rivers Conference they are assured no fewer than five games against class 1 teams (SCR-I, North Shelby, Putnam County, Milan, and Knox County). That used to be six games before Schuyler County became one of the smallest Class 2 football teams when districts were redrawn.

To put numbers to this, Brookfield had a 9-12 enrollment of 380 students when MSHSAA gave it a class 2 distinction in football for 2006 and 2007. North Shelby received a Class 1 rating with a high school enrollment of just 130 students. Believe it or not, Scotland County with 238, was just shy of Schuyler Countyís 266 students, the latter of which qualified for Class 2 in football. Clark County comes in at 331 students while Putnam County has an enrollment of 241 compared to 202 at Milan and Knox County at 189.

This isnít meant to disparage either of the football programs at Clark County or Brookfield. Regardless of the enrollments, both schools have excelled above and beyond the perceived size advantage with hard work and dedication to winning.

But you have to toss out the win/loss issue when you consider Knox Countyís point to this argument. We arenít considering loses in games on the scoreboard, but the loses these schools are experiencing on the field in the form of injuries. Maybe it has just been a bad year, but if you take a look at the injury reports for many of these small schools, itís a miracle that some havenít had their health insurance revoked. Scotland County is nearing the .500 mark. While the team has a 2-4 record after getting beat by Clark County, it is closer to the halfway mark in the numbers of players from the original roster that are going to be physically able to suit up Friday night.

Opponents of this concept will argue ďThatís football.Ē Yes it is a violent sport and there will always be injuries. The initial injuries are simply part of the game. Where the problem arises is just like this Friday night when we take on Brookfield. Minus our starting receiver, running back, three linebackers and at least a couple of linemen all out with injuries, a small school like SCR-I doesnít have the depth to put a second string out on the field. Instead, a small school is putting out the jayvee, freshmen and sophomores who arenít ready for varsity football.

I know it is not politically correct to write off this Fridayís game against the #2 state ranked Bulldogs, but I know I canít be the only one wishing we could simply call down south and tell the school to save its gas money. I just want to avoid any more injuries. Last week the coaching staff asked me to suit up for the second half at Kahoka because they were so short of healty players.

Iím not sure what the answer to this dilemma is. The two tiered proposal would be an ultimate scheduling nightmare. Teams already struggle to fill open dates, so if we changed the conference around to avoid games versus the bigger or smaller schools, it would send schools scrambling to try to replace two or three ball games. Thatís nearly impossible. I remember when we had an open date on our schedule. Granted that doesnít sound so bad heading into this week, but I suspect our kids would much rather play the big Bulldogs than not to play football at all.

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