Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 17, 2017

Who’s the next Danville?

By Justin Webster | Oct 25, 2017

When I first took this job in September, I started asking the local coaches and athletic director’s questions about the back stories of the area schools and teams I would be covering. One immediate storyline that was mentioned by various schools and coaches involved the late cancelation of Danville’s 2017 football season.

Two of the coaches I spoke with were coming from very different perspectives, yet seemed to have the same concern. Why was Danville allowed to cancel their season in August, when they assured the rest of their district, Class A-6, that they would be able to boost their participation and field a team after forfeiting their final six contests of 2016?

Last year six freshmen, 10 sophomores, and three juniors played for the 0-9* Danville team that forfeited those last six district games after starting the season 0-3. The Bears average loss was by a score of 52-4, while they only scored two touchdowns in their three games.

 

Controversy

Many rumors had suggested that although only 19 players suited up for Danville last season, 25-30 student-athletes were possibly headed to play 3A football for West Burlington-Notre Dame as part of their conglomeration.

After some roster/stat comparison between 2016 Danville and 2017 WB-ND, only six players appear to have joined the Falcons this season.

Senior Tyler Hill was third on the team with 30 tackles, and junior Darius Whaley was the team’s top receiver with 11 catches for 90 yards, but the other four players combined to make only two tackles in 2017.

It’s also worth mentioning that while West Burlington’s enrollment of 207, added to Danville’s 153 and Burlington Notre Dame’s 97 does in fact combine for 457 students, placing them right in between Washington and Mt. Pleasant sizewise, the football team only had 26 participants while playing at the Class 3A level. For comparison, Fairfield had 58 varsity eligible players to start the season, Pekin had 44 and Cardinal had 23. Pekin and Cardinal were aligned into the same district as Danville for two seasons beginning in 2016. Similarly, in the Class A-6 district, once proud Winfield-Mt. Union only dressed 24 kids this season and went 1-8 with their lone “victory” coming in a 17-0 forfeit by Danville. The Wolves lost their eight actual games by an average score of 36-5. What’s lost?

So, when all is said and done, who does it hurt if three schools that are neither competitive, nor highly interested in football, combine to make one 2-7 team? That’s the thing, it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone in February, March or April when games could be rescheduled and adjustments could easily be made. However, the state allowed Danville to cancel in mid-August and that’s where people feel burned. First-year Cardinal coach Landon Miller spoke on the impact his coaches and players felt by losing a district game.

“It took away an opportunity for our kids to compete when they have worked their tails off to play the games,” Miller said. “Especially in our situation right now we knew we were going to take it on the chin, so getting rid of a game our kids can use to improve from is huge for us.”

The coach raised another valid point.

“On top of losing the game, we didn’t even get a win from the forfeit. I think that the state association missed on this one.”

Makeup game

Pekin may be headed to the postseason as the No. 2 seed from district 6, but just a few weeks ago, it appeared that the lost Danville game could affect the chances of an at-large berth for either New London or the Panthers. The Tigers did receive one of the two at-large bids awarded, but not without controversy and having to wait until the math was sorted out on the final Friday.

Coach Bud Blakely was able to lead his Pekin team to an 8-1 record, but not before calling 30 schools to try to add a replacement game last minute. Albia agreed to an Aug. 18 game on short notice that cut both team’s training camps by a week.

“I think most of the frustration was due to how late they made their decision,” said the second-year coach. “It affected our practice schedule, and obviously our game schedule as well.”

Blakely continued, “I just worried about my seniors losing a game and the potential of it happening again later on in the season. With that in mind, I felt it was in our best interest to do anything we could to get a ninth game for our kids.”

Like Miller, Blakely also had concerns with the IHSAA’s decision.

“I’m not sure I agree with how the state handled the situation, but I respect their decision. It could have easily been a few other schools in our district doing the same thing, and that’s concerning.”

Size matters

With 164 9-11 graders as of Aug. 23, 8-1 Pekin is the largest school in Class A District 6, followed by 0-9 Danville 153, 2-6 Cardinal 151, 1-8 North Mahaska 122, 6-2 New London 120, 4-4 Montezuma 117, 8-0 Lynnville-Sully 113 and 0-9 Winfield-Mt. Union with 109.

Many shrinking school districts that have historically competed at the A or even 1A level have dropped to 8-man football out of necessity. My alma mater Iowa Valley has been aligned with most teams from Class A-6 over the years and they fall right in between Winfield’s 109 and Lynnville’s 113 student body size with 111 underclassmen. However, according to Iowa Valley assistant coach Martin Wieck, they made the switch in 2016 because, “We got to the point where we had 13 players playing junior varsity and it was not giving our kids a good experience. When you are in our business, it’s all about the kids.” Iowa Valley finished 7-2 and made the playoffs in their first season playing 8-man and followed it up with a 6-3 record and a third place district finish this year. The last four seasons the Tigers played Class A football included three losing seasons and an 11-25 record overall.

What’s next?

A major concern that Coach Blakely alluded to that could greatly affect both Cardinal and Pekin is the absence of enough Class A schools to compete in 11-on-11 football. With Winfield, Danville and North Mahaska struggling to compete in District 6, who will Cardinal have left to play in Class A within 100 miles? Can Pekin play on the same level against 1A competition if they are forced to move up? How far will they have to drive to find a district? When asked if Pekin will always find a way to play football?

Coach Blakely replied, “Does a cow go moo?”

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