By Shako Liu
Litchfield County Times
FALLS VILLAGE >> The Housatonic Valley Regional High School/Wamogo football team forfeited a game Tuesday against Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby because of its low roster numbers, aggravated by injuries.
It’s the third consecutive game the team has forfeited this season. The team registered its second forfeit to the CIAC last week for a contest against the Blue Devils of Coginchaug Regional High School in Durham. The first one occurred in a scheduled match against Lewis Mills in Burlington the week before.
Anne MacNeil, the interim athletic director at Housatonic, said there are currently only 16 eligible players, with 30 to 35 needed to field a good team. It’s not certain if the Housatonic team will forfeit the rest of the season. Ms. MacNeil said she and the coaches are evaluating the team on a week-to-week basis to see if they can fill a varsity team.
Despite the tough situation, the football team is trying to continue its junior varsity schedule, according to head coach Deron Bayer. While the varsity players are disappointed, especially the seniors because it is their last year, they continue to practice and no one has quit the team.
The low roster number gives the team little chance to win and having to play in every position during a football game—on offense, defense and special teams—is a physical challenge most high school players can’t endure.
“Our decision is based on safety. We realize that we don’t have players always backing up each position,” Mr. Bayer said.
The team started with 30 players at the beginning of the year before injuries, illness and dropouts. Ms. McNeil addressed the problem of declining enrollment at the high school, which has lost about a third of its student population in the past few years. Housatonic has a large athletic program, with many different sports offered; even when enrollments were higher, the large number of choices made it difficult to field teams with depth of talent.
Ian Strever, the acting principal of Housatonic Valley Regional High School, said a lot of communities in the region have become second-home destinations for people coming from the cities. Many of those residents are retirees or choose to send their children to private schools. Families with children often leave the district looking for more affordable housing and work, further decreasing the number of children at the high school.
“School attendance around the state is also coming down,” Mr. Strever said, “We co-operate with Wamogo [in Bantam], and we have reached out to some other schools in the area to extend our cooperative agreement. Some schools are willing to talk about it. Others are not willing at all. We will see what we can do.”
Housatonic joined forces with Wamogo several years ago and the integration proved instantly successful. According to Litchfield County Sports, the Mountaineers won more games on the field and Mr. Bayer’s go-to offense, the single-wing, even got national coverage when it was featured in Sports Illustrated. But it’s been a struggle since then. The Mountaineers lost their last six games of that season, all 10 in 2012, and seven so far this year, including the first two forfeits. In their five games on the field this season, they did not score more than eight points in any contest.
“At some point a lot of football coaches always say all we need is 11, but you really need more than that, because you have to be able to substitute players. I don’t know if I have said it before, but I definitely won’t say it again,” Mr. Bayer said, “It’s very frustrating for me, but at the same time, we make a decision based on what’s best for the players.”