JOHNSTOWN - The cancellation of the Johnstown varsity football season and the forfeiture of the four remaining games has cast a dark cloud over the future of the program.
The question remains whether there will be a varsity football program next year.
So far, Greater Johnstown School District officials say a varsity football season is expected in 2013.
Broadalbin-Perth’s Josh Deuel (63) sacks Johnstown quarterback Matt Szurek during a Sept. 7 game at Patriot Field in Broadalbin. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
"There was no intention to shut down the program," Johnstown athletic director Jim Robare said.
The Sir Bills' 2012 roster had six seniors on it, leaving 13 underclassmen on the team out of the original 19. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association requires 16 active players to be on the roster.
"This was an unfortunate issue to start the season," Robare said.
The declining numbers forced officials to cancel the remaining games and bring the program to the JV level for the rest of the season.
Such a move is not unprecedented in this area.
In 2003, the Canajoharie football program was in a similar situation, although coach Ken Sullivan and his staff decided the previous March not to have a varsity football season and his roster was even more depleted then than the Sir Bills was this year.
Like Johnstown this year, the 2003 Canajoharie squad had six seniors, but there were only two juniors on the roster.
"We had a good group of freshmen and sophomores," Sullivan said. "We debated moving the freshmen and sophomores up, but we decided it wouldn't be beneficial. There's a big difference between a senior athlete and a freshman athlete. [Staying at JV] would allow these kids to develop against competition at their level."
With a strong freshman class, the Cougars played a season at the JV level before returning to varsity in 2004, where they suffered a 2-7 record. In their second year after returning to the varsity the Cougars were 4-5 and nearly made the Section II Class C playoffs.
Then in 2006, the team made its biggest jump when they went 6-1 during the regular season and won the Class C South.
Prior to suspended play in 2003, the Cougars hadn't won a division title in two decades.
"We've been solid ever since although we've had a couple down years," Sullivan said. "When I first took over, we were everyone's homecoming; now we're not. We're a respected, viable program."
Sullivan also said the Canajoharie football program had tremendous support not only from school district administration, but also the community, which included the local youth football program.
At the time, Marty Waffle, one of his assistant coaches, was heavily involved in the program. Even today, Sullivan has his hands in the youth program.
"The football backers are important to get behind their coaches and do what they can as far as fundraising," Sullivan said. "I've seen their youth program. They have good numbers and I know they have athletes. I know they can recover from this, but they have to start from the ground level and work their way up."
Robare said the program has a lot of support from the Johnstown Little League football program, which serves as a feeder program for the modified, JV and varsity teams.
Scott Miller, president of the Johnstown Little Football League echoed Robare's sentiment.
"I think we have a great relationship," he said. "The school has put on a clinic every year for the last three years. The year before that they came down and did a clinic and brought varsity kids. That's huge for our kids."
Robare said the numbers at the lower levels are "increasingly better" than the numbers at the varsity level.
"They have been doing very well," Robare said. "They have had some success. It's just nice to see them doing what they need to be doing."
There are about 30 players on the JV level and about 42 at the modified level. They can mix with the 13 remaining juniors, who, if they return next year, could result in a less undermanned program.
Miller said the youth program's numbers are a little down from last year. The league has three flag teams with 14 to 16 kids per team, two junior teams - down from three last year - with 16 to 18 players on them, and two senior teams with 20 to 21 players.
"[The school district has] been nothing but helpful," Miller said. "We play our home games at Knox. The district helps us out there. I believe we're on the right track. It truly has become a feeder program for the varsity and I believe it will continue to be that way."
However, the Sir Bills will need to be bigger, stronger and faster in order to bring success back to Knox Field.
"We need to improve attendance in the weight room," Robare said. "We need to make sure we're doing everything we can to get stronger and faster."
There also needs to be commitment from not only the athletes, but their families and the community.
"Football's a tough sport," Sullivan said. "It is physically and mentally demanding. Parents have to be understanding of that and be supportive and make sure their kids follow through with the program."