After Further Review: Cole Young 3/30

Cole Young

By Cole Young PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: April 1, 2019 - 12:12 AM

The 2019 football season is bound to be a whole new world for many longtime administrators and coaches who have known nothing but 11-man football.

As Rich Hill Superintendent Heath Oates stood on the sidelines during Rich Hill’s game in Week 10, he texted a friend “After tonight I probably won’t watch an 11-man high school football game for a long time.”

Rich Hill is classifying as an 8-man football team for the 2019 football season, joining Appleton City, Drexel, Liberal, and St. Joseph LeBlond.

While having five teams joining 8-man might not seem like a big deal, it actually signals a significant shift in the makeup on the division.

Though none of the mentioned schools have seen much in terms of football success in the last few years, they are five schools that have been longtime 11-man football schools that frankly just can’t get enough players out for football.

“We will likely have 14 players out for football next year,” Oates said. “You can’t reasonably field an 11-man football team with 14 players.”

While it’s been 20 years, the Tigers were Class 1 state champions in 1999 and posted a winning record just five seasons ago.  But even with the pride that came from once being a WEMO Conference powerhouse, times have greatly changed in Rich Hill.

The Tigers have lost their last 25 games, only once staying within a touchdown (a two-point loss to Appleton City last season) while dropping 8 games by 40 or more.

Those in Rich Hill would say the losing isn’t what’s forcing their hand. Instead there’s a general safety issue when your numbers are so low.

“When you have a 14 year old kid who weigh 120 pounds trying to block a 17-year old man who weighs 185 pounds, that is going to get the kid hurt and that’s going to get your running back hurt,” Oates said.

Simply put, towns like Rich Hill, Appleton City and Drexel know it’s time to make the move.

“I think if you were to ask people here, they’d said we are a year too late,” Oates said. “We probably should have done it last year.”

And while the change certainly impacts these schools, its impacts the other schools in their conference as well.

Rich Hill, Appleton City, Drexel and Liberal join Osceola who already went to 8-man. That leaves just Adrian, Archie, Cass-Midway and Jasper as 11-man football teams. Starting in the 2019 season the conference will have an 11-man football champion and an 8-man champion.

Given the demographics, it’s hard to see things changing anytime soon. Since 1970, Rich Hill has lost 25 percent of its population, the majority of those leaving being younger families.

So how long is the “long time” that Oates referred to in that text message?

“When our numbers are back up,” he said.