JOHNSTOWN - Johnstown athletic director Jim Robare was asked directly whether there would be a Johnstown varsity football team next fall if there were the numbers to support it.
His answer was just as direct. He said yes, there would be.
Robare was present at a meeting Thursday night of parents and alumni to discuss next year's varsity season and sustaining the varsity level beyond next season. About 35 parents and alumni attended the meeting.
Varsity football coach Matt Benton said the team needs 25 to 28 players on the varsity roster to bring back the varsity team for next year.
Benton said he and his staff told Hudson Falls athletic director Bill Strong that the Sir Bills' drop to JV for the final four games of the 2012 season was a one-year move and he expected the program to be back on the varsity level in 2013.
Benton said the schedule for next football season is made in February or March so the Sir Bills have until then to find the 25 to 28 players he is targeting for next year's team.
Last fall's team had only 19 players show up when practice opened in August and by the time the season was canceled, there were only 16 players remaining. Coaches said the players on the JV level at the time were not ready for varsity competition.
"It really became a safety issue," Benton said.
Benton showed a slideshow at Thursday's meeting at the old Immaculate Conception Church Hall, listing some of the obstacles the program is facing, such as numbers and the team's speed and strength. They also discussed the team's offseason preparation.
Benton said the program lost an average of a third of its players from modified to JV and then another third from JV to varsity.
In order to turn the numbers around, the coaching staff will look to the players that are still in the program to recruit new players or bring former players back.
"The kids that came down were very positive," Benton said. "They loved the game. That's why they played the game. They were great to coach and great to be around. The younger kids looked up to them as leaders."
Benton also discussed weight-room attendance, which he said has already shown a sharp increase over last year.
"They're in the weight room three days per week," Benton said. "They're in two days a week. It's been pretty good. We have a lot of kids that are not in season have been showing up after school."
Many football players have been filling out the wrestling roster as Benton said he and his coaches encouraged football players that weren't signed up for a winter sport to wrestle.
They're getting their weight training in, as well, as the wrestling team is in the locker room about two days per week.
"I don't think we're going to have that [attendance] problem in the future," Benton said. "The kids that are freshmen, sophomores and juniors, they're understanding the concept and it's a matter of getting them in there. Some want to come in two days and maybe we want to get them in there three days or four days. We're going to try to push the envelope."
Parents also had an opportunity to voice their concerns, as well. Some questioned how a mostly out-of-district coaching staff can keep on top of the athletes and hold them accountable during the school day. Others were concerned about how the community views the program, which has been suffering for several years.
In order for the program to succeed, Benton posted a slide that showed the difference between athletes, who work hard and are willing to put in effort and participants, who were defined as doing the minimum.
He pointed to Schalmont, which before 2009 had made the playoffs only four times in the past two decades. The Sabres installed a bigger, faster, strong program and have been a sectional power ever since.
Despite the challenges, coaches were clear they want to field a varsity team in 2013.
"I don't want to coach JV again next year," Benton said.