CONCORD – The Concord football team has been playing musical chairs so far this fall due to participation numbers and injuries.
The Yellowjackets began fall camp with a full roster of players but between the postponing and restarting of the football season, COVID-19 concerns and an unusual amount of injuries, the program was faced with a difficult decision heading into their Week 5 matchup with Jonesville.
The school announced on Wednesday that the football program would officially be canceling its final two games of the regular season against Jonesville (Oct. 16) and Reading (Oct. 23) and will opt out of this year’s 11-player postseason state tournament.
“It’s a tough situation, but we have to do what’s best for the health and safety of our kids,” said Concord head coach Max Clark. “Unfortunately, it’s just not feasible for us to continue to try and piece together a football team these last weeks of the season with the number of injuries we’ve sustained and the kids we’ve had recently become academically ineligible due to the challenges they are facing with remote learning.”
Concord is currently 0-4 on the season is coming off a 56-14 loss to Homer last week. Their Week 5 opponent, Jonesville has picked up Stockbridge for a non-conference game this Friday. Reading, who is scheduled to face Concord next week, has not officially announced a replacement as of Wednesday afternoon.
Concord will attempt to extend its season in the coming weeks, as they join Vandercook Lake, Vermontville Maple Valley, Bridgeman, Bloomingdale and Bangor for an unsponsored 8-player tournament. The modified competition, which is still being put together, will give an opportunity to schools with enrollments too large for the Michigan High School Athletic Association 8-player state tournament but with dwindling participation numbers this fall.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Clark. “It gives us a chance to extend our season a little bit in a creative way without putting any of our kids in danger of getting hurt. I can’t take my 145-pound receiver and try and make him play tackle in 11-player football. That’s a recipe for disaster and that’s the quickest way to not only get a player hurt but make them not want to play the sport again.
“We’ve been maintaining an 8-player schedule for our junior varsity team, so that’s something we are working on potentially setting up as a way of giving our varsity kids some sort of a postseason. We’re going to try and practice playing 8-player football for the next two weeks and hopefully have enough healthy players to enjoy some playoff football this season as a way to reward these kids. In 8-player football, we’ve only got to worry about three offensive linemen, so we can open things up a little bit and we can get everyone some playing time.”
Clark didn’t rule out a permanent move to 8-player football in the future for Concord.
“We will definitely look into it,” he said. “With our school size, I think we’ll probably continue to be in the low 30′s range as far as participation numbers, so we’re already teetering on the edge of Division 8 and 8-player football. It might just be a year-by-year thing for now.”
The initial postponement of the Michigan high school football season caused Concord to lose several veteran players from the program, as those upperclassmen opted to pick up part-time jobs outside of school instead of waiting on a season that seemed unlikely to resume.
“When we started in August, things were looking pretty good,” said Clark. “We ended up losing a few kids that we thought we were going to come out and then we had a few older kids get jobs once the season was initially postponed because we didn’t really think football was going to come back.
“When the season came back, those kids decided they wanted to stick with the jobs they had just started instead of jumping back into a season that was filled with uncertainty. Since our restarted season, we had a couple of kids not come back because their parents were worried about COVID, a few more didn’t come back because their parents didn’t believe their kids should have to wear masks to play football and then we’ve had a lot of bad luck with injuries once we got back into action.”
When the MHSAA reinstated football on Sept. 3, Concord had 31 players available between their varsity and junior varsity teams.
“We probably only had 11 or 12 juniors and seniors on our team in total, so we had to bring up a lot of sophomores,” said Clark. “Then, a few weeks into the season, we get hampered with a lot of injuries. We’ve had two kids taken to the hospital for neck injuries and one kid broke his leg, so it was a scary situation for us.
“Then, some kids became academically ineligible because school is becoming increasingly difficult on these kids when they are only at the school two times a week and they have to do the rest on their own. So, between the number of injuries we’ve sustained in a short amount of time and the academically ineligible kids on our roster, we are down to 11 total varsity players this week that I’m comfortable putting out on the field.
“To me, that’s just not enough to go into a game with. You probably should realistically have 15 kids active on gameday because you need to give players breaks when they need it. It’s been a difficult situation to maneuver, but we believe this is the best course of action for our program and our kids.”
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