South Fork to Play 8-Man Football Next Season
South Fork High School Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Andy Olsen made the controversial decision last week to shift South Fork’s football program from a full sized 11-man line-up to an 8-man system starting next season.
In a move that could inconvenience other local teams who will continue to play 11-man, South Fork is looking at the health of its players and viability of its program and doing what is best for its student-athletes and the school.
In order to fill out his 10-game schedule Olsen has been scheduling games against schools with enrollments two to three times that of South Fork and has been getting beaten up before ever getting into league play 4 games into the season when he finally gets to see rosters and enrollments similar to South Fork’s in Ferndale, St. Bernard’s and Hoopa.
“We haven’t had more than 20 guys on the roster since 2008,” said Olsen, his second season as head coach. “When we have injuries, that means almost every player plays every down on both sides of the ball.” With 17 on this year’s roster, he is starting most games with just 14 players suited up.
“Most of the schools we used to play and have competitive equity with have gone down to 8-man,” he added. “This will give us some subs and may enable us to restart a JV program.”
There are some thirteen small schools who will comprise the 8-man league, loosely divided into “north” and “south” divisions, and a spirit of cooperation among the schools is emerging to make this a friendly experiment in keeping programs alive in the face of declining enrollment and increasing concerns about the overall safety of the sport.
South Fork will be in the northern group with Laytonville, Potter Valley, Round Valley, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, and Upper Lake. They will play all the northern teams at least once, and then cross over to play several of the southern teams to round out the schedule. The southern teams are Branson, Stuart Hall, Rincon Valley Christian, Tomales, Point Arena, Calistoga, and possibly St. Vincent. Long time fans of the team will remember seeing many of these schools as 11-man opponents in the past. That so many have dropped down to the smaller format makes South Fork’s decision very understandable.
In the 8-man game, two players are pulled off the line and one out of the backfield. The field can be shortened and narrowed to 80X40 yards, but some games are still being played on regular sized fields.
“I’ve talked to the players and the parents and we all agree this is the best thing for us right now,” said Olsen. The team is obliged to play in the 8-man league for at least two years in order to honor all of the reciprocal match-up agreements.