NORTH FOND DU LAC, Wis. – The 2017 football season for the North Fond du Lac (Wis.) Orioles is over before it even got started.
It was announced by the school on Tuesday that it was canceling its varsity football schedule 10 days before the season-opener due to a lack of numbers.
“We had low numbers in the junior and senior classes and several of those players were out for football for the first time,” North Fond du Lac athletic director Matt Bertram said. “It became a safety issue. If someone gets hurt, the next player up in many cases was a freshman. With the strength of our conference and who we play, it was not a safe situation to have.”
Bertram — who took over as athletic director this summer — said the school identified a possible issue last spring when a sign-up for football was held and the numbers were low.
However, there were an additional 10 to 12 upperclassmen that signed up to play but did not report when the season started last week.
“They said they were coming out, but it just never materialized,” Bertram said.
Once practice started and the numbers in the program were apparent, the decision was made to cancel the season.
But it certainly wasn’t an easy one.
“It’s not so much for the game of football, but the seniors who have given three years to the program and to have to tell them we were not going to play football this year, it was the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking thing,” Bertram said. “It’s not something I would wish on any team.”
“It’s been a turbulent, interesting last few days,” Bertram said.
Bertram said that the school will play a Junior Varsity 2 schedule and he hopes the juniors that came out for squad will be able to play at the level.
Bertram is also looking into playing the junior varsity games on Friday nights to continue the tradition of playing games under the lights.
“We’d like to move the JV2 games to Friday nights to give the kids that experience and for the benefit of our students,” Bertram said. “The student body always rallied around (the Friday night games) so we’re hoping moving the JV2 games will ease their concerns.”
He also said that varsity football isn’t ending at North Fond du Lac and he believes the program will be back in the near future.
“Our freshman and sophomore numbers are very strong and so we will return to having a varsity schedule,” Bertram said. “Our goal is to be playing varsity football again next year or at the latest in two years.”
North Fond du Lac hasn’t qualified for the WIAA playoffs since the 2010 season and had suffered through three straight winless seasons in the Flyway Conference. The Orioles went 1-8 overall last year.
Over the past six seasons, the program has posted a 6-48 overall record and a 4-37 record.
North Fond du Lac also canceled the varsity football season in 2005 but returned to varsity play the following season.
Lomira canceled its varsity season in 2008, but also returned the following year.
North Fond du Lac opponents will receive forfeits for each of the games but they will also have the opportunity to schedule new games during those weeks with the outcome not reflected in their record.
“It gives (the teams we were scheduled to play) the chance to get meaningful games against another team,” Bertram said.