The Centennial High School varsity football team has been disbanded for the 2017 season, according to a news release from the Howard County Public School System on Friday afternoon.
The decision was made after a meeting at the school between coaches, athletics and activities manager Jean Vanderpool, school and Howard County administrators, and student athletes and parents on Thursday.
It’s an unprecedented decision regarding a Howard County varsity football team. The conclusion was made because a “lack of sufficient players and concern for student safety made this a necessary decision,” according to the release.
According the release, juniors have been granted a waiver to be allowed to play on the junior varsity team, which will play its full eight-game schedule and will now play at 7 p.m. with marching band and cheerleader performances. Varsity soccer games will move from Thursdays to Fridays at 5 p.m.
The decision will have a major effect throughout the county. Every county team except Oakland Mills High School, which is not scheduled to play Centennial this season, now has only nine games scheduled. None of the Centennial’s opponents will be awarded a forfeit because, according to the MPSSAA rule book, a team that disbands either temporarily or permanently must have played at least one regular season game in order for an opponent to be awarded a forfeit. Teams are allowed to fill the hole in their schedule if it can be worked out with another opponent.
Centennial, a Class 3A school with an enrollment of 1,505 students in 2016-17, went 1-9 last season and 0-10 in 2015 and 2014 after winning seven games in 2013. It made its only appearance at the state tournament in 1980 and finished as semifinalists.
Eagles head coach Carlos Dunmoodie, who was entering his third season at the helm, nor Vanderpool could not be reached for comment.
Centennial senior Todd Hendrix said he “kind of saw this coming” because of the “overall demeanor of Centennial” and because “football isn’t our thing; we don’t breed football athletes.”
Hendrix played two years on JV and was on varsity last season. He didn’t attend tryouts on Aug. 9 but decided to re-join the team on Wednesday after being influenced to come back by a coach.
Hendrix added that his effort to recruit fellow students was difficult because the team didn’t win games. “They didn’t want to come out and get killed every Friday night,” he said.
“We haven’t been good since 2013. It’s the whole demeanor of the school. ... But there are kids on the team who take it seriously and are going to play at the next level, like Corey Eudell, like Vernon Batson.”
Hendrix said he heard there were 16 kids at the first day of tryouts but when he attended on Wednesday there were 18 — 13 in full pads and five not in full pads. He added that they started last season with 22 players and ended with 19.
Hendrix did not attend the meeting on Thursday night but said through conversations with his friends that it focused on recruiting more students to join the team.
“What I heard was basically that if we don’t have a team ‘by Monday’ that they were going to shut down the season,” he said. “So that pushed me to go out and recruit kids.”
Hendrix said that he believes he and his teammates would have been able to get more kids to join the team by Monday and that he was surprised when the decision was made before then.
“We could have easily had five or six more kids out there I think,” he said.
As for options for the seniors, Hendrix said they were told they could tryout for another fall sport or join another extracurricular activity or they could help out with the JV team. He said he was going to do the latter and put “my football IQ to good use.”
Keith Edwards, 20, graduated from Centennial in 2015 and played four seasons at the school. He said there were around 40 kids on the team his freshman year and “at least 25, maybe close to 30” his senior season.
“They had a pretty good size team,” he said. “Even my junior year [in 2013] they had a pretty good size team.”
Edwards also thought the reason for low participation was because of the number of games the team lost.
“That doesn’t get kids attention. And maybe because of how much of an academic school it might be,” he said.
Edwards said he was surprised to see the team disbanded but admitted a part of him wasn’t because of the steady decline in participation over his four years with the program.
“I knew participation was going down as the years were going on but I didn’t think it was this bad,” he said.
Mason Smith, a 2017 graduate who played four years at the school — including three on varsity — said the program meant a lot to him and he’s disappointed to see the team disbanded.
“I played football for 14 years, 15 years, as far back as I can remember,” he said. “… I’ve grown up with [former teammate] Michael Klein and we played together since we were 6 years old and we didn’t stop until senior year. Everybody who was on the team with us the entire four years, three years, they know that it means a lot to all of us.”
Smith said that while participation dwindled during his time there, he never cared about the wins or losses. Instead, he said, he and his teammates just wanted to have fun on the gridiron.
“They need to start showing that it’s not just about the record. If you were to come out to a practice or a game you could see how much fun we were having,” he said. “It’s not just about, oh, we go out there and get killed. We didn’t get killed. If you went to a game last year, every game was pretty much close. ... Even against [3A East region champions] Glenelg, we were up on them and tied with them at halftime. It’s just about the fact we don’t have the numbers.”
Although not fielding a varsity team in Howard County is a first, participation in football has declined nationwide.
According to a news release from National Federation of High Schools on Aug. 7, participation in 11-player football in 2016-17 dropped by more than 25,000 from the previous year, although the number of schools offering the sport increased by 52 schools. Overall, the decrease of participants amounted to fewer than two players per school.
“While we are concerned when any sport experiences a decline in participation, the numbers do not substantiate that schools are dropping the sport of football,” said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director. “The NFHS and its member state high school associations have worked hard to reduce the risk of injury in high school football, and we are pleased at the continued strength of the sport across the country.”
Still, “football remains the No. 1 participatory sport for boys at the high school level by a large margin.”
Wilde Lake football coach Michael Harrison, who said he is “not holding out hope” that his team will be able to replace its home game against Centennial on Oct. 6 and expects to play just nine games this season, said he is not worried about lack of participation at his school.
“The situation we have at Wilde Lake, it doesn’t bother me necessarily,” he said. “We’ve got I think 72 or 73 kids dressed, so our participation hasn’t really been affected.”
Instead, he said, the issue might be a lack of winning games.
“I think as much as anything they’ve had a tough run of it the last three or four seasons and it’s hard for kids,” Harrison said. “They don’t want to go out there and be associated with that, I can understand that and it’s hard to change the culture of programs. Changing the culture of a program is probably the most difficult thing to do in coaching.”
Howard athletics and activities manager Michael Duffy said he is actively seeking to replace its Week 7 matchup with Centennial on Oct. 13. As the only Class 4A school in the county, losing a game could prove costly in their push to win a fourth straight 4A North regional championship.
Ultimately, however, he said this was an unfortunate situation for not just Centennial, but for the county as a whole.
“Obviously it’s a tough situation. It’s tough for their kids and for the community. You don’t want to see any programs fold or fail to have a team for a season,” he said. “That has a negative impact on high school sports and on a lot of the high school community events. For Centennial, it’s a huge hit and you feel bad for their community and their kids.”
This story has been updated.
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