A year ago, the status of football on the South Coast was on an uptick.
New Oregon School Activities Association policies proposed by a football committee created the six-man option for Class 1A schools, which allowed Powers to have a team. They allowed Myrtle Point to play eight-man football even though it is a Class 2A school, which helped the Bobcats keep their program going. And Kevin Swift was back as head coach in Gold Beach after a successful four-year stint by Justin Storns, with several Pacific players joining the Panthers so they could keep playing.
Fast forward 12 months and teams are preparing to begin practice Monday, but things aren’t rosy for Powers, Pacific and Gold Beach. In fact, there’s a good chance none of the three schools will have players on the gridiron this fall.
To suggest it’s an unfortunate situation for would-be players is an understatement.
“It’s a sad deal,” said Powers Superintendent Matt Shorb.
The causes of the current scenario are multiple.
Powers knew it wasn’t going to have enough players this fall. Projected enrollment is 16 for grades 9 through 12 and only three of the few boys in the school want to play, though all three — including two sons of coach Kayne Pedrick — are entirely committed.
The Cruisers thought they had reached a new partnership with Pacific, which had a number of students express interest at a spring meeting, prompting the two schools to seek, and receive, approval from OSAA for a cooperative agreement.
But then things unraveled for Pacific. One of the most interested players moved to Bandon, and athletic director Ben Stallard said another might also not be at Pacific. Interest among the other students started waning to the point that Stallard didn’t think there was enough interest to make the partnership possible.
“We had about four that I thought were legit to do it, and a couple of them were going to move,” he said.
How bad are things in Pacific, which will have an enrollment of about 40? Stallard said he might not have enough experienced boys to field a varsity basketball team this winter, two years after the Pirates won their first state championship in the sport.
Once the Pacific partnership fell through, Powers athletic director Sam Stevens was on the phone with Myrtle Point athletic director Jennifer Sproul about the possibility of a cooperative agreement that would allow the three Powers boys to join the Bobcats.
At first, it looked like that might work. But there was no guarantee the two schools could have a partnership and play eight-man — OSAA told them last year they would have to play 11-man, which the two schools didn’t want to do given the low numbers of Myrtle Point and thus, the low numbers of a combined team.
Sproul said she asked OSAA officials about a cooperative agreement to play eight-man this fall and was told no decision would be made until the next OSAA Executive Board meeting, on Sept. 9. Until then, she said, the Powers players wouldn’t be allowed to even practice with the Bobcats.
At that point, she said, it wouldn’t be fair to either group — the Myrtle Point kids would already have established their positions and learned the offense and defense while the Powers players would be starting from ground zero.
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“I feel terrible about it,” she said. “I want the kids to be able to play.”
Sproul and other athletic directors are going to be with OSAA officials for a meeting Thursday, and she said she would again ask about an earlier ruling on a cooperative agreement, at least providing a little chance.
Another option might be for the Powers players to join Coquille, but that might not be possible because the combined enrollments of the two schools, even as small as Powers is, could push Coquille over the limit for Class 2A, and with schedules already set, there’s no way the Red Devils could play as a Class 3A team, something they aren’t interested in anyway.
So there is little hope for a cooperative agreement for Powers with either Myrtle Point or Coquille.
A little hope is also what Swift has for Gold Beach to have enough players for a team this fall.
The numbers for offseason workouts haven’t been good — he said the turnout of 11 kids Monday was a good one. A community member told him recently that he had talked to 21 players interested in playing, but he hasn’t heard from them.
“On Monday, we’re going to meet in the locker room at 4 and see our numbers and go from there,” he said. “I am trying to proceed with caution. The kids are pretty honest with me. If they don’t show up Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, they ain’t playing.”
Swift isn’t willing to try to field a team with only 14 or 15 players for safety reasons, and it’s too late for Gold Beach to try to play eight-man.
Swift is a coach at heart and wants to provide opportunities for the kids if there are enough, but he also wants them to have a chance to succeed.
“We all want to win,” he said. “If there’s a team, I will coach it. Still, I want them to have an opportunity to be successful.”
And, he added, “If we throw these kids out there, there won’t be enough digits on the scoreboard for what some teams will do to my munchkins.”
Swift keeps hope for the future. Riley Creek, Gold Beach’s middle school, has a team, though only enough kids to play nine-man, and if that program is able to provide enough for the high school, the Panthers could be back next fall even if they can’t play this year.
In Powers, the window is a little further out. Another small class of kids will enter the high school next fall before bigger groups start to finally arrive.
At least Powers will have volleyball this fall, one bright spot for a school that wasn’t able to field a team for that sport or basketball last year.
Here’s hoping for a brighter future all the way around.