Looking for real life anecdotal evidence of the impact the decline in football participation in some American states is actually having on the ground? Search no farther than Clairemont High School in San Diego.
Like many in California, Clairemont has always hosted a football team. Like many, it’s success has ebbed and waned, but it’s very existence has never been in doubt … until now. Suddenly, three games into the 2018 season, Clairemont can field just 21 varsity football players, all of whom enter through a tunnel of 32 cheerleaders.
Let that sink in for a moment: 60 percent of the Clairemont students on the football field last Friday night were cheerleaders, not football players.
To be fair, the team is missing four significant players; per the San Diego Union-Tribune, two linemen are injured and two running backs remain in the concussion protocol. Still, the difference between 21 players and 25 is relatively marginal, so it’s not as if the 25-man roster would have shored up the depth issues that are now plaguing Clairemont’s preparation and game day performance.
The results on the field aren’t helping either. Through three games, Clairemont has been outscored 125-20. There’s little sign of those wipeouts abating in the future.
As noted by the Union-Tribune, the midseason roster drop offs are a veritable epidemic in Southern California:
Chula Vista’s Castle Park High, which won two CIF titles in the 1990s and reached the final on four other occasions, has forfeited its last two varsity games because roster numbers dipped into the teens. Escondido Charter scrapped a game two weeks ago. Valhalla, a decade removed from playing in a CIF final, has no JV team. Madison High, the city’s premier public school program, has no freshman football this year.
For Clairemont head coach Manny Diaz, the solution lies in internal recruiting — not the type used by colleges to bring players into their campus, but the type to desperately scramble to find hidden athletic gems on their own campus who might be amendable to trying football out.
“You hear about college coaches recruiting,” Diaz told the Union-Tribune. “I’m recruiting, too — kids on my own campus. We turn over rocks to find players. We say: ‘Put down the video game, put down the phone, get outside, get active, join a team.’
“We tell them about the experience of high school football. Eating that pregame meal with your teammates, riding the bus together, Friday night lights, running through that tunnel onto the field, pride in your community — there’s nothing like those memories.”
High school football fans need to hope Diaz’s sales pitch resonates far and wide. Otherwise soon there won’t be many teens left to make those memories.