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Pine Valley High School's football season came to an abrupt end on Wednesday when administrators were forced to cancel the season because of a lack of players.
Second-year Panthers coach Ehrich Zollinger said he had fewer than the Section VI minimum of 16 players show up for the first two days of practice on Monday and Tuesday. Between 26-30 players had signed up to play. Pine Valley is a Class D school in the Section VI Federation and has a grades 7-12 enrollment of approximately 300.
The numbers forced Zollinger, athletics director Mark Chase, principal Paul Mihalko and superintendent David Kurzawa to make the decision to end workouts.
"We literally have had people crying, but we'll find a way to get through it," said Mihalko, whose son A.J. would have been a senior two-way lineman. "It's disappointing, no doubt. We didn't have enough to have a team. That's a safety concern; the speed of the game gets quicker and faster as you move up."
The administrators are hoping the players who still want to play can participate on a team in a neighboring district. The only other sport Pine Valley offers for boys in the fall is soccer.
There were 37 players on the Pine Valley roster last year, which ended 0-8.
In addition to being the Pine Valley coach, Zollinger is a former Panthers player (2002-05). "It hurts to lose your hometown program," he said, noting that the lack of numbers took him by surprise. "It's kind of tough to tell because so many kids play several sports in the offseasons. It surprised me, too, but things can change fast."
Section VI football co-chairman Ken Stoldt said at this point it looks like the teams who were scheduled to play Pine Valley will lose a game. "We're going to reach out to Section V and see if we can do anything creative with the schedule, but at this last date . . . Some of those team are playing crossovers with Class C and if we redo that D schedule it's going to snowball. It's a difficult situation and we're going to have to deal with it."