JOHNSTOWN - The Johnstown football team has been battling low numbers all season.
This week, the numbers got so low that the Sir Bills were forced to cancel the remainder of the varsity season.
Johnstown coach Matt Benton said the Sir Bills were hoping to get to Homecoming, which would have been next week against Hudson Falls, but the numbers were dropping too quickly.
Johnstown quarterback Matt Szurek (6) scrambles from the pocket during a Sept. 7 game at Broadalbin-Perth. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
"It is a safety issue," Johnstown Superintendent of Schools Rob DeLilli said. "I really would be irresponsible if I strongly advocated moving a ninth- or 10th-grader up to face the quality and size of players in our division. It would be inappropriate. From the student athlete perspective, they want to continue to play, however, we have to step back as adults and say 'is putting a 14- or 15-year-old up against potentially a 19-year-old a wise decision at this time?' "
Varsity football programs in Section II are required to have a minimum of 16 players on their rosters.
Last season, Saratoga Central Catholic forfeited the final three games of its season when its roster numbers fell below the minimum.
"The kids know about it, we talked to them at practice yesterday," Johnstown athletic director Jim Robare said. "They are very disappointed. There are six seniors on the team and it is unfortunate for those kids who have worked hard to stay at the varsity level but now it is a safety issue."
Last week, the Sir Bills had 17 players for their game against Tamarac, and four of those players went down with injuries during the game, leaving Johnstown with 13 varsity players. Then another was sick, leaving the Sir Bills with 12 during yesterday's practice.
The Sir Bills have brought JV players to varsity games to use if necessary, but Benton said they are not ready to play at the varsity level.
"It hasn't helped the program to bring up 10th-graders," Benton said. "We wanted to keep these kids down to play at the JV level."
The six seniors on the Sir Bills' roster will become player-coaches while the seven juniors will be sprinkled into a rotation during JV games so the freshmen and sophomores on the team still get their playing time.
"We're not taking the season away from those kids," Benton said. "The seniors will stay on as player-coaches and help us with things. They will still be part of the program."
The Sir Bills, who were scheduled to play Glens Falls Saturday, are 0-3 on the season and will forfeit their forfeiting their final four games will bring their record to 1-31 over the last four seasons.
"Sometimes you have to take a couple steps backward to go forward," Benton said. "It's very painful for me to do this. This is not where I expected the program to be in my third year as coach. You can't rebuild a program on varsity. We have to find a way to break the cycle because that's what it's become."
Aside from the varsity season, the rest of the program, including the end-of-the-season banquet, will remain intact and the seniors will be honored at that time. After the season, Benton said coaches also will talk to parents regarding the program's future.
"I think a lot of it is pulling the parents in and telling the parents this is where it's going to be," Benton said. "They have to understand their kids have to put the time and effort in. These kids can be successful. They can compete, but we can't control numbers."
The future of the Sir Bills football program looks positive as the junior varsity and modified teams are having successful seasons.
"I'm certainly excited to see so many youths in the modified and junior varsity programs. I hope that part will continue and we'll have another season," school board president Paul VanDenburgh said.
Robare also said the involvement from the fans and students is essential.
"I encourage the people in the community to get involved, stay positive and continue to get kids out and play," he said. "That is the reason we do programs throughout the year: to get the kids involved in the teams along with the team-mentoring programs that we have. Hopefully, the numbers for all the different programs will increase."