TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The North Tahoe football program finally reached a worst-case scenario.
After grappling with numbers for the better part of the past decade, longtime North Tahoe head coach Scott Everist was forced to cancel the Lakers’ football season after only eight players showed up for the first day of practice.
“That’s just what it boils down to — we don’t have the numbers,” Everist said, explaining that he’d need close to 15 players to proceed with the season. “We’ve been struggling for years. We had some kids in the spring and it looked like we had enough, but they’re just not ready to go, and we don’t have enough. It’s just a tough situation.”
The announcement comes after a relatively successful 2013 campaign in which the Lakers made a move to independent status and switched to eight-man football for the first time in school history. It was supposed to be the start of a rebuilding era, with still two more years as an independent and optimism that the Lakers could steadily build their numbers.
That 2013 squad, which started out with 14 healthy players, won its first two games before losing its final three. Halfway through the season, several players lost interest and quit, Everist said.
“They just weren’t into it. We get these kids who come in and they’ve never played before. They don’t know and understand football,” Everist said, adding that every year the Lakers have a handful of talented and experienced players — just not enough of them.
One player who fits that bill is Brandon Hayakawa, who excelled his junior season as a speedy and athletic quarterback. Fortunately for Hayakawa, he will get to play his senior season. Everist said that due to North Tahoe canceling its season, he was allowed by the NIAA to transfer to Truckee without having to sit out a year, which is normally required for transfer students. He’s listed as a running back and safety on the Wolverines’ roster.
North Tahoe didn’t always struggle to field a team. The Lakers were once a proud program with enough students to compete among the NIAA’s Division I-A ranks (formerly 3A). The school began steadily declining in enrollment in the mid 2000s, however, and dropped to the Division III (formerly 2A) in 2006. School enrollment has now dipped to roughly 300, Everist said.
“It boils down to simple math. The school does a great job offering all the quality sports that we do, but if you look at it, we’ve got 300 or so kids in the school, and roughly half of them are boys, so there’s just a lot of competing interest and not a lot of bodies,” Everist said. “I’m sure we’re not the only program in the country that’s not playing football this year. A lot of them are hurting.”
Despite the tough times, all is not lost for North Tahoe. Everist hopes this is the first and only season the Lakers’ have to forfeit entirely (they forfeited a handful of games in recent years, always due to dwindling numbers late in the season).
“We’ve got some North Tahoe kids down in the Pop Warner ranks, so there’s some youth over here,” the coach said. “It’s tough and it’s sad (about this season), but we’re still hopeful that it’s going to come back. We’re not giving up by any means. We will try again next season.”