Numbers game killing Whittell football |

Numbers game killing Whittell football

Column by Steve Yingling

For decades, football coaches have begged their players to play as one. If trends continue, that plea could become ironic reality at Whittell High.

Short of reclassifying for an eight-man football league, the Whittell High Warriors are in real danger of not having a varsity football team this fall. There’s a good possibility the Warriors may have to forfeit their Sept. 3 season opener at Battle Mountain.

The dubious forecast came after three days of practice when only eight players turned out for the once-proud varsity team.

“I don’t know where they’ve gone or what they’re doing. They’re sitting in front of their computers, I guess,” said Whittell second-year coach John Summers. “You can’t beg them to come out. They have to want to come out.”

How can that happen in football – which often unites and energizes a community and allows a team’s stars to experience the incomparable feeling of being worshiped? Sure, it’s one of the riskiest sports you can play in high school and requires spending off-seasons and summers in a sticky weight room, but football also shows teen-agers how productive working together can be.

What a letdown this must be for those who either played for the Warriors or passionately followed them. Everyone from the cheerleaders to 30-year residents have vested interests in the team.

Enthusiasm for football at Whittell is understandably at an all-time low. Nineteen consecutive losses can make cross country running and soccer seem more appealing.

“I’m sure that’s not helping out. But it’s not one thing that’s made the single-most difference. It’s a lot of things that are adding up to being one problem,” Summers said.

Contributing to the player shortfall is some students have elected to hold jobs until school starts Aug. 30.

“From what I’ve heard from the kids who are here, they don’t want to quit their jobs. But they have to get 10 days of practice in before they can play in their first game. If we don’t have enough, I guess the first game will be written off,” said Summers, who will consider accepting players after school opens.

Bill Freeman has learned more than most about the small-school football numbers crunch in 21 years at North Tahoe – 12 as head coach. He sympathizes with Summers’ plight.

“My heart goes out to him. Every year I worry about numbers,” Freeman said. “Don’t they know they have to work the rest of their lives? They should be kids while they can.”

Trent Gordon, Luke Forvilly, Jake Corners, Matt Wiggins, Joel Warnick, Chauncey Lane, Dennis Lucas and Matt Miller deserve some reinforcements. At least they haven’t give up. Yet, they may soon have to find something else to do this fall or play out of position to keep the team afloat.

“You definitely have to have 11 kids out there, but with the way kids get dinged up and get the wind knocked out of them, you need a couple or three extras to survive,” Summers said. “It’s not going to do us any good to play a game with 11 and end up playing with nine or 10 guys at some point and end up getting whipped. That’s foolish, and someone will get hurt.”

Less than a decade ago, Whittell didn’t have enough playing time for everyone. Most players were content to stand on the sideline for a winning program.

“Back in the early ’90s when I was coaching, even with soccer going strong, we had 40 to 45 kids come out for football,” said Summers, who was an assistant when the Warriors were 3A state runners-up to Boulder City in 1991.

Summers saw it coming. In his final 1998 locker room speech, Summers warned the underclassmen if commitment and dedication continued to decline, there was a possibility football would be discontinued at the school.

“Other sports are suffering from the same problem. Anything that requires extra time or weight room time, there doesn’t seem to be enough kids interested,” Summers said.

Freeman believes Whittell’s 250-student enrollment, which is 150 fewer than North Tahoe’s, is one of the two contributing factors to the poor turnout.

“For most kids, there are too many distractions, and that’s something that drives me crazy,” said Freeman, whose Lakers were state runners-up to Truckee with only 19 players in 1993. “We have a lot of great kids, but we have Tahoe Kids. Tahoe kids are involved in a lot of different things. They don’t seemed heavily committed or geared until sports get here.”

Compared to other programs in northern Nevada, the Warriors – despite their albatross of a losing streak – have a very appealing situation. Summers has scheduled only one three-hour practice per day, while some other schools are putting their players through three workouts daily in the 80- to 90-degree heat.

Help is on the way – even though it’s a year or two off. Summers welcomed the largest freshman class in some time – 12 players – but they’re too inexperienced to provide immediate help.

“Jeez, I have to have something for them this year. I can’t speak for the AD or the principal, but as far as I’m concerned, those kids deserve to play first because they’ve shown the most commitment. If I don’t have enough to go with a varsity team, those younger kids have to have games to keep excited. We can’t tell them to come back next year as sophomores and try again,” Summers.

Whittell will also benefit next year by reclassifying in the 2A, allowing the Warriors to compete with schools of comparable size and ability.

Summers can’t buy players like some colleges do, or eliminate classroom work. But he can promise players a stake in Whittell’s football future.

Without their help, the program may fold, and the goalposts may soon wind up at a fund-raising auction.

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