Low Numbers Endanger HS Football Season

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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)


LITCHFIELD — The status of Litchfield High School's varsity football season, which is in doubt due to a low number of players, is expected to be decided on Monday.

Tom Priddle, entering his second year as the Purple Panthers' head coach, said Saturday he had 24 players — including 10 freshmen — in the entire program.

Several players joined the program in the last few days, but Priddle said they wouldn't be able to play in Friday's varsity home opener against Staunton because they wouldn't have participated in enough practices to meet Illinois High School Association eligibility rules.

Those players probably would be eligible for the Week Two varsity game against Piasa Southwestern, Priddle said.

Priddle said he will meet on Monday with Litchfield principal Douglas Hoster and new LHS athletic director Andy Kassebaum. They will decide on whether to move forward with the varsity schedule or to cancel it and forfeit the nine games.

The Purple Panthers are members of the 10-school South Central Conference, which includes mostly Class 3A programs including Carlinville, Pana, Hillsboro and Gillespie.

"When it's said and done, it will be us saying yes or no," Priddle said. "Now, the administration could say at any time, 'You know what? You're not doing this,' no matter what we say or want to do."

In the event the varsity schedule is canceled, Litchfield still would play its eight scheduled junior varsity games. Kassebaum said J.V. games currently are set for Mondays, but some could be played on Fridays if the varsity schedule is dropped.

Kassebaum and Priddle said a decision will be made Monday, and the decision will be final. Litchfield doesn't want to keep its opponents guessing from one week to the next, Kassebaum said.

"I know Mr. Hoster doesn't want to go week to week," said Kassebaum, a former Litchfield football coach who was hired as A.D. on Thursday.

"I think the parents would like to give it a go, but they've been very good about the situation. But definitely a problem."

With a listed enrollment of 395, Litchfield is the third-smallest school in the South Central. Roxana (559) and Greenville (524) are the largest.

The Purple Panthers have gone winless each of the last two seasons after going 4-5 under former coach Patrick Reents in 2015. Their last playoff appearance was in 2005, the last of three straight postseason trips under former coach Mark Elvers.

Priddle said he had 41 students signed up to play last spring, but those numbers dwindled throughout the summer. He said it's difficult to keep players committed when victories have been scarce.

"Over the course of the summer, I really don't know what happened," Priddle said. "I see no reason why we can't go into a season and be competitive against schools the same size as us.

"But we're under the gun because we're Litchfield. We're kind of under the microscope."

Priddle said he would like to move forward with the varsity schedule, but he's willing to listen to all aspects during Monday's meeting.

"I'd love to give the kids a chance," Priddle said. "But we have to weigh all the pros and cons. We have 10 freshmen, and I don't want to put some of them in a dangerous situation."

Pawnee moves forward

Pawnee football coach Tim Kratochvil said Saturday there are 22 players in the Indians' program. That includes three from co-op partner Raymond Lincolnwood.

Despite the low numbers, Kratochvil said Class 1A Pawnee intends to play its varsity schedule beginning with Friday's non-conference opener at Class 2A Shelbyville.

Pawnee hosts Class 4A Clinton in Week Two before facing the Mount Olive-Bunker Hill co-op, South Mac, for their Prairie State Conference opener in Week Three.

"I think South Mac has about 24 (players) and Nokomis might be under 30," Kratochvil said of follow PSC teams. "A lot of us are going to be in the same boat.

"But we're going forward."

Kratochvil said the Indians have a combined total of eight juniors and seniors along with six sophomores and eight freshmen.

"At the end of last season, we had 32 or 33 players," he said. "But we graduated 14 seniors. There are just seven boys in our senior class this year."

Contact Dave Kane: 788-1544, [email protected], twitter.com/davekaneSJR

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August 19, 2018


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