As high school football faces peril across the country due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it was a decline in participation that forced Southern Wells to cancel their 2020 varsity season.
That decision was made Thursday, just eight days before their first scheduled game against Fremont. Athletic Director Ben Burman says that the program will still play this year with strictly a junior varsity schedule.
“I think part of it is just the cycles you run into as a 1A school,” Burman said. “Part of it too is we have had some kids who have played and just not come back out. That is strictly a result of not having a JV or playing kids too early out of necessity. Football in the ACAC and this area of the state is physical and it is demanding.”
Burman says he sees that as a reason that many kids don’t return after their freshman seasons competing on a varsity level. Southern Wells’ enrollment as of 2017-18 was just 400 students.
Southern Wells was hit hard by graduation and some small classes behind the Class of 2020. The Raiders’ offense last year consisted of nearly all seniors with just then-sophomore Dustin Woodward accounting for any underclass offense with two all purpose yards according to the team’s MaxPreps page. Then-sophomore Hunter Ginger was the team’s top non-senior defensive player with 13 tackles, which was eighth on the team in 2019.
Burman says that this season, they had 17 or 18 kids come out for the football team at the beginning of the year with over half of them being freshmen. A couple of injuries in the last couple of weeks forced Burman and coaches to hit the hallways looking for players with no success. Southern Wells then felt like it was in the best interest of the program and the kids to take a step back this year.
The step back will come in the form of a junior varsity schedule still being played. It allows second year coach Mike Roeder and his staff the ability to still run the program but give younger players valuable reps on a lower level. It will allow the Raiders to return all but one player for a 2021 varsity season.
“We are going to play a full JV schedule. We have already talked to almost all of our opponents, they are ready to play us in JV,” Burman said. “They know the history of Southern Wells football and they know this is hopefully just a blip on the radar.”
With no official IHSAA rule that says seniors can’t play junior varsity, lone senior Lucas Lindsay will likely still suit up according to Burman.
“He took it well. He is a great, great kid. We told him, if you are going to play, it will kind of be a week to week thing where we would let the other team know we do have one senior. If it is a bunch of [opposing] freshmen then he probably would not play and his response was ‘then I will stand on the sideline and I will help guys get better.’ He handled it better than most adults would have, probably,” Burman said.
The loss of Southern Wells’ varsity football program for the season marks the second lost game for each Fremont, Adams Central and South Adams on the season. It also moves the ACAC to just six teams for the season.
Southern Wells went 2-8 last season, the first under Roeder, after going 1-9 in 2018 in the one season under Greg Mose. Roeder came to Southern Wells after spending from 1996-2017 as the coach at Northeastern where he had strong waves of success.
“This is kind of foreign territory to him, but he knew this was going to be the year that was kind of make or break for us,” Burman said of Roeder after last year’s 22-man Sectional roster featured 10 seniors. “He’s disappointed but we have kind of talked to the kids and they are going to practice like a varsity team and coach like varsity coaches and then they will play on Monday nights instead of Friday nights.
He probably looks at it as we are completely tearing the program down and he gets to be the one to rebuild it. And he is the guy for job for sure.”
Southern Wells’ last winning season was in 2015. The team went to semi state in 2008 and 2009 and won a Class 1A state title in 2001.