FOSTORIA — St. Wendelin has not one, but two dates to fill on its 2010 varsity football schedule.
A scheduling snafu and the decision last Thursday by Marion Catholic to discontinue the school’s football program mean the Mohawks, as of now, have open dates on the schedule in Weeks 1 and 4, according to St. Wendelin head football coach Bill Hrabak.
St. Wendelin, which was already under contract for a Week 1 game at Arcadia, scheduled Newbury, a school with similar numbers problems as the Mohawks. When the mistake was realized, St. Wendelin gave up its game with both schools, and instead, the Redskins will open their season by playing Newbury in a 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon game Aug. 28 at Arcadia’s Kieffer Field.
As for Week 4, according to a story in the Marion Star, Marion Catholic’s decision to pull the plug on its football program was made after the school had only 13 students commit to playing for the football team this fall. There are just 30 boys in the high school.
The team started with more than 20 players in 2009, but finished with closer to 15 because of injuries. Since 2000, the most players listed on the pre-season roster was 28 in 2006 and 2007, the newspaper reported.
The problems with the schedule started last spring when the school was trying to decide what direction it wanted to go with its football program.
St. Wendelin, which has fielded a football team every year since 1923, has had numbers problems of its own over the past decade. Declining boys enrollment has taken a toll on the school’s grid team which was one of the area’s dominant small-school programs in the 1980s and early 1990s.
With 47 boys in grades 9-11 in the last OHSAA count, the school is the fifth-smallest in the state to field a football team. Only Zanesville Rosecrans (45 boys), Bellaire St. John Central (43), Portsmouth Notre Dame (36) and Vanlue (36) are smaller.
The number of players using the weight room last spring tapered off from a dozen or so to less than a handful. Fearing the school may not have enough players to field a team, St. Wendelin officials discussed discontinuing its own football program or playing an independent schedule week-to-week against schools in similar circumstances.
That led school administrators to meet with the other schools from the Northwest Central Conference to discuss possibly withdrawing from the league.
“We had looked at the numbers and said we might not have the numbers to play. So we were going to make a move and possibly play an abbreviated schedule. We wanted to give the NWCC some lead time to find an opponent to replace us,” Hrabak said.
“The league was very supportive and wanted to stick with us. They said if we don’t get through the season, we don’t get through the season. The NWCC was on board with us.”
The Mohawks were already trying to set up an independent grid schedule and had verbal agreements with several other schools before the decision was made to remain in the NWCC for the 2010 football season. The problem with the Week 1 game was the school signed a contract with Newbury but was already under contract for a Week 1 game with Arcadia.
“I called (Arcadia coach) Paul (Shoemaker) and told him what happened. I told him I couldn’t guarantee we would even be able to play in Week 1,” Hrabak said. “We offered to let them play Newbury and we would step out of Week 1. That’s what we did; it was the right thing to do.”
There is still the possibility that St. Wendelin could find an opponent for its open dates.
The school has been in contact with a league of Christian schools in Michigan that would have openings on both open dates. The league is made up of teams made of up small Christian schools and homeschoolers and have numbers similar to the Mohawks’ 14-18 players Hrabak expects to have on the roster this season.
“If we can get through two-a-days and if we can work something out with the Christian school league they will have a Week 1 opening. If we’re healthy, we can still probably schedule that the week before and still have an opportunity to play that week, but that’s still speculation at this point,” Hrabak said.
The Mohawks will also be traveling out of state for a scrimmage. A small Christian school league based in North Carolina has invited the school to participate in a four-team jamboree-style scrimmage on Aug. 14. In addition to the scrimmage the Mohawks will also likely get a tour of the campuses at Duke or the University of North Carolina.
“We have some cool things set up for the kids, we just need them to come out. The kids are pretty excited because they get to go out of state. We’re trying to add something that will get kids interested in coming out for the program,” Hrabak said.
“Our numbers, as always, are still shaky. We’re just hopeful we can weather the storm of injuries and that everyone comes out that said they are coming out.
“We’re just plowing ahead the best we can.”
On the Net: www.stwendelin.org/highschool/athletics.html