By Don Nelson
Liberty Bell High School will switch to eight-man football this season, reflecting concerns of returning players and their parents that recent varsity teams have had too few players to be safe and competitive.
The Mountain Lions will take the spot vacated by another school in an eight-man league and will play against teams including Pateros, Waterville, Wellpinit, Colville, North Point, Inchileum and Yakama Nation, Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable said in a memo to district residents this week.
Junior high football for the 2015-16 season will remain in the 11-man format.
Venable cited low turnout and safety concerns as the main drivers behind the decision to give up 11-man football at the varsity level — at least for now. But he added another factor that is important to players: “They really didn’t have fun.”
In 2014, injuries and a diminishing roster forced Liberty Bell to forfeit some games.
Chase Rost, the district’s new athletic director, said direct input from players, coaches and parents had much to do with the decision. In fact, Rost said, some returning players said they would not turn out for 11-man football.
“Their view was that 8-man would be the most fun, it would attract the most players, and it would be the best step to rebuild the program,” Rost said. By the end of last year, Rost said, the players “felt uncomfortable and unsafe.”
“The players want to have football, and they want to have fun,” Rost added.
Venable said the switch to eight-man will be reviewed at the end of the upcoming season and could be reversed. He said one goal of the change is to start rebuilding the program so it can successfully and safely compete with other 11-man teams. “We see it as an effort to preserve our football program,” Venable said.
One drawback to the new schedule, Venable said, is that the team will have to travel farther. But there will be fewer games, and the Mountain Lions will host three or four home games, Rost said.
Eight-man football tends to be a quicker game with higher scores. In Washington state, eight-man teams play on full-size fields.
The new varsity coach for the Mountain Lions is Steve White, who was assistant coach for the junior high program last year. “He has a great philosophy and wants to coach for the right reasons,” Rost said of White.
Varsity practiced started today (Aug. 19).
Venable said the action does not require school board approval, but the board was informed of the change at a recent meeting.