One of Montana’s historical football powers has decided to sit out the entire 2017 football season due a significant decline in students participating, the latest program in America that has been forced to stop playing as student interest declines (if only in a slight statistical trend) nationwide.
As reported by the Flathead Beacon, among other sources, the Hot Springs football team has forfeited its entire 2017 slate after only nine players showed up to compete in the 2017 season. Making matters more trying still, most of those players are just freshmen or sophomores themselves.
“We’re just really low on numbers and we’re really young,” Hot Springs coach Jim Lawson told the Beacon. “We were just hanging on by a thread but we would just not get through the nine-game schedule. This is also better safety-wise for the team we have.”
The cancellation of the season was a joint decision between Lawson and school officials. It was particularly stunning considering what Hot Spring achieved less than a calendar year ago, capturing the Montana Class C — the state’s six-man division — football championship with a 54-20 victory against MonDak in the title game. That win capped a perfect season in which the (wonderfully named) Savage Heat outscored opponents by an aggregate 679-32 score. It was the school’s first state title in six seasons and was achieved despite a roster that numbered just 15 total players.
The problem was that 10 of those players were seniors, leaving Lawson’s program with just five returning players. The four new signees are all underclassmen, and an overall increase in school size (from 60 students to 80) brought with it a subsequent advancement to Class B, which is eight-man football.
Nine athletes for an eight-man team is not enough to field a safe and responsible program, let alone when more than half of that number is underclassmen. The hope now for Lawson and the program is that a few ad hoc junior varsity games can be arranged, with an eye on bringing the program back to compete with a full varsity schedule in 2018.
“We’ve been living the dream pretty much the last five to six years,” Lawson told the Beacon.