NEW LONDON — The parents of New London middle and high school football players are unsure whether or not moving to 8-man from 11-man football is a good idea, but for now, they’re more concerned whether or not this will help their athletes be the best they can be.
In an open forum on Tuesday, Nov. 21, in the New London High School auditorium, parents and community members gathered to hear District Superintendent Chad Wahls elaborate on what it would mean for the district to switch to 8-man football, a decision the school board needs to vote on by Dec. 4.
Wahls said he wasn’t going to recommend a decision to the school board that he didn’t feel was going to be supported by the community.
“I’m not going to put them in a position to make a vote on something that puts them in a very tough spot,” Wahls said. “This is not a hill I am going to die on.”
Wahls said board members were being educated last night right along with the rest of the community, as they sat listening to the concerns of parents and players. He said that he hopes when the board does come to a vote, the vote is unanimous. “I think that shows a commitment to each other and to you,” Wahls said to the parents.
The switch to 8-man football is coming at a time when the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) is redistricting. The decision can only be made every two years per the state of Iowa. Conversations are also taking place in Winfield-Mt. Union and Montezuma Community School District about whether to switch to the smaller-size teams.
“We have the opportunity, the districts are realigning right now and that’s why we’re having this conversation,” Head Football Coach Mark McSorley said. “As a coach, I think we can be more competitive at 8-man. That’s coming from a coaching perspective.”
Wahls said that this decision is not about winning or losing, but it’s about doing what’s best for the athletes.
“First thing that comes to everyone’s mind when they hear 8-man is they say it’s not football, but it is football,” Wahls said. “You still do everything you do in 11-man, it’s just three less people on both sides of the ball.”
For schools to drop to 8-man teams, their numbers for ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade must be below 120 total students. This number is based off the district’s enrollment as of Oct. 1. Currently New London has 115 students enrolled across the three grades.
This means that once the two-years is up and the state redistricts again, New London could possibly be bumped up to an 11-man team if they have a higher enrollment. This concern was voiced by many parents, but McSorley said that this is not a concern for him.
“I don’t see that as a problem, I really don’t,” he said.
Another concern was whether middle schoolers would also stick with an 11-man or go to an 8-man team. Wahls said that because the field goals would have to be brought in 10 feet on each side and the teams use the same practice field, the middle school would have to stay with what the high school was playing.
In earlier discussions with students, Wahls said athletes came up with a list of positives and negatives for an 8-man team. They thought 8-man would provide better competition in practice and wouldn’t force younger players to play at a level they were not physically ready for. Wahls said that hopefully this would also reduce injuries. The athletes also cited that this would lead to faster paced games and players would be able to stay fresh with more rests off the field.
Athletes were concerned, however, that fewer players on the field would mean less playing time for them. They also brought up whether or not college coaches would recruit from 8-man high school teams, to which Wahls said in his research and talking with coaches there was a resounding yes.
“This is great that we have kids who love football and what to be recruited to play at the next level,” Wahls said. “(College) coaches said, ‘We don’t care (about 8-man vs. 11-man), we look at skill.’”
Wahls said that out of all the students he spoke to, there were only a handful who said they really would prefer to stay with 11-man, but that they also didn’t say they wouldn’t go out for football in the fall if it was an 8-man team.
“My feeling is if you love football, you’re going to play,” Wahls said.
There were six football players last year who did not return to the field this year. Wahls said that the same could happen regardless of whether they play 11-man or 8-man and that “there’s always going to be this little cloud who will say it’s because of 8-man” that the athletes didn’t return.
“I think that happens every year regardless,” he said. “I don’t want it to be connected.”
One parent voiced his concern, saying that he sees 8-man as a step back. “First thing that came out of my son’s mouth when he heard about 8-man was that he wants to go to Mt. Pleasant (Community High School),” he said, adding that his son would not actually transfer because of his connections in New London. “Under no circumstances have we ever approached high school football as if we’re not going to make varsity.”
McSorley jumped in, saying that he doesn’t understand why three fewer players on the field would make a difference in how an athlete feels about football.
“I think the key to all of this is if you love football, you’re going to play,” Coach said. “And if you want to get better, you’re going to do the things to get better in the offseason. I think that’s what we want here is some of the kids to take ownership of the football program, whether we’re 8-man or 11-man.”
New London High School is currently ranking at class A, with 31 players on the roster this year and eight graduating seniors.
If New London stuck with an 11-man team, the teams in their district they would play would be Pekin, North Mahaska, Lynnville-Sully, Lisbon, Alburnett, B-G-M Brooklyn and Belle Plain. In an 8-man scenario, New London would play Winfield-Mt. Union, WACO, Lone Tree, Montezuma, Springville and Don Bosco. These schools are according to Wahl’s projection based on what each district seems to be leaning toward at the moment.
Closing the meeting, Wahls invited parents or members of the community to reach out to him or other board members if they had concerns about the change.
“I’m looking at this meeting as a way to feel where you as parents and the community stand,” Wahls said. “I know where our kids stand, but if I’m way off, please tell me.”