With enrollments slipping at some rural Idaho schools, football-crazy boosters say saving endangered gridiron programs could require switching to six-man teams from the current minimum of eight players.
In the past five years, Camas County High School’s enrollment has dropped from more than 70 students to currently 38 students.
To field a team now, the school has to get nearly a quarter of its student body to turn out.
One school, North Valley near Gooding, opted not to field an eight-man team this year. Another school, Murtaugh, forfeited games after injuries riddled its lineup.
The Twin Falls Times-News reports Camas County High School athletic director Randy Jewett is pushing for six-man football — not merely to save a sport, but to preserve a rural fall tradition.
“Camas football is going to end over my dead body,” he said.
Jewett is spearheading a movement to start a six-man football league in Idaho, canvassing interest among smaller schools across the state before he plans to submit a proposal to the Idaho High School Activities Association in December.
This isn’t the first time such a proposal has been floated.
Back in 2010, eastern Idaho high schools Clark County and Leadore touted a six-man proposal with the IHSAA.
But what was seen then as a “Hail Mary” pass to save their programs flopped, primarily due to lack of interest from enough additional schools.
The reception for a similar proposal may have changed, however, just two years later.
At least that’s what Jewett is hoping, after North Valley, a school of only 43 students in Gooding, scrapped the 2012 season before it even started due to insufficient numbers.
Meanwhile, Murtaugh, whose enrollment weighs in at a slim 45, was forced to cancel halfway through when injuries decimated its roster from 12 players to six.
“If we want to keep our program, we need to have it on the table as an option if it develops,” said Murtaugh athletic director Clete Edmunson. “Six-man is legitimate football for small schools. They play it in Montana, Nebraska.”
Officials at the IHSAA say they, too, believe the situation has changed as schools in Idaho’s hinterlands grapple with a future of smaller enrollments.
“We’ve had some interest, and it seems like it’s a little bit more this time than it was last time, so I think it’s a valid request,” said IHSAA executive director John Billetz. “I think it’s a good thing to put on the discussion agenda and see where it goes.”
One question to be decided is, where would the cutoff line between six-man and eight-man football teams be drawn.
Jay Darrington, chairman of the IHSAA Classification Committee, said it’s highly unlikely the state would add a seventh classification.
Instead, the IHSAA would be more likely to reclassify 1A so that there would be one eight-man league and one six-man league, he said.