Signing day for middle schoolers? Could Iowa HS's gimmick be the next wave to increase participation?

National Signing Day has virtually become a national holiday for high school and college football fans, but now an Iowa middle school is getting in on the act.

As reported by the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa High School held a “signing ceremony” at Evans Middle School in Ottumwa. The event played out exactly as if the athletes in question were signing on to play for a college, with 24 student athletes signing “letters of intent” indicating they intend to join the Ottumwa football program when they attend the school as freshmen in the 2017-18 school year.

Twenty-four middle school players agreeing to join a school’s freshman team is a solid number, though the total from Evans may have been double that; Ottumwa football coach Rich Mayson told the Courier that 25 other players signed letters of intent to play for his program but could not attend the signing ceremony.

Mayson’s reaction to the ceremony was notable, particularly in the tone he maintained in his comments.

“That’s a huge number for a freshman class. I’m glad about the way it turned out,” Mayson said. “The commitment they’re signing to says on paper that they are committing to our program. Hopefully, they’ll stick to that commitment throughout the next four years.”

Talking about middle school athletes committing to one sport for four years feels like a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it? That’s not to say that all 49 of the student athletes at Evans won’t stick with Ottumwa football (particularly as the “commitment” they signed does not bar them from participating in any other activities), but it is brazenly optimistic to hope to hold on to even a majority of initial entrants.

The bottom line is that Mayson is clearly trying to encourage a bond of commitment from one level to the next, openly encouraging a sense of family throughout the different tiers of the Ottumwa football pyramid. He certainly seems to have achieved that. Whether his first middle school signing day proves to be a trend setter for other programs to follow remains to be seen.