Eight-man football has been an undeniable movement across the country as schools deal with shrinking enrollments and roster sizes, but one school, at least, is bucking the trend.
Christian Life School in Rockford, Ill., has played 8-man football for three seasons and will play a fourth. After that, the school will return to the 11-man game.
As reported by the Journal Standard in Freeport, Bill Shepard, a big part of the growing statewide movement to 8-man football in Illinois, is being replaced as Christian Life football coach this year.
Christian Life, which co-ops with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, was 2-8 last year and had only 15 players. The school has shrunk from more than 300 students to 110 over the last 20 years. In the face of such attrition, athletic director Dennis Myers sees room for growth. “We wanted to make athletics bigger,” Myers told the Journal Standard. “Football and basketball are the two sports that drive the men’s program. We think we can see an increase in enrollment and in student participation, all the way from cheerleading to students coming out to support the games. We want to make athletics a bigger part of the whole experience of being a high school student and we thought 11-man could do that for us.”
Christian Life will exit its conference when it goes back to 11-man. “Of the six teams that stayed 11-man, three of those have either dropped their program or are considering going to 8-man,” Myers said. “We would try to play the others that are still playing 11-man. But because I have a year and a half to work on it until the 2021 season, I feel I will be able to find games.”