Go Bonac football! It’s a phrase that has seldom been heard for over a year in the hallways of East Hampton High School. In August of 2017, only 14 players showed up for preseason football practice, which was not even enough to field a team. The sport was cancelled. Now what? Many students and community members don’t understand what is really going on.
The football team needs a minimum of 24 players, but only 14 came to the first varsity tryout in 2017. East Hampton has had a football team since the early 1920s, but it simply had to cancel the team with only 15 players trying out for varsity and junior varsity. Throughout the school year, students and coaches have been trying to build the program back up, and there may be a football team in 2018.
So, why did only a few players try out? There is a problem with interest level, but also with the league itself. Divisions are decided based on school size, which seems to be indicative of the number of players who will try out. The bigger the school, the more players, and better chance of the best players possible being on the field.
Evidently, this is not always the case, and schools like East Hampton are at a disadvantage. EHHS has 878 students, putting it in the highly competitive Division III. This has resulted in many losses, as the 2016 season had only one victorious game. Is it possible the demoralization, constant losses, and simply getting beat up by bigger, better teams are contributing to the deteriorating interest level?
Football has prompted controversy around the nation with new research detailing life-threatening concussions and injuries resulting from the extreme contact. Some high schools have disbanded their football teams due to safety issues. Participation in high school football is down three and a half percent over the past five years, according to the annual survey by the National Association of State High School Federations. Even the NFL has changed the rules to limit injuries.
The issue is fraught with controversy. For some, football is a fun sport, which allows players to be active and part of the community. But many are becoming increasingly concerned. This summer, researchers at Boston University said they’d found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeat head blows in nearly all of the 202 former football players they studied. Coach McKee, the East Hampton head coach, cites concussions as a major concern. “I think it’s the major reason why high school football has been in such decline,” he said.
Despite all this, East Hampton High School athletic director Joe Vas and coach McKee have been fervently pushing to get the team back for next year. McKee said, based on the level of interest from various meetings throughout the year, there will definitely be a team, whether JV or Varsity. This team will be in Division IV, for the smallest schools, and not be eligible for the postseason for the next two seasons. This could allow the football program to get back on its feet and be somewhat competitive.
But how do the students feel about this? Most students support the idea of a football team. Some say that if they want to play, students should be allowed to play football, and that the field should be used. According to students, the high school pep band felt remiss without football games to attend, and homecoming just wasn’t the same in the gym with volleyball. Overall, East Hampton High School wants football back.
Despite the many challenges facing the program, the East Hampton football team will keep fighting for a chance. The entire nation is still considering what to do about concussions, and the Long Island divisions are still messy, but there will be a 2018 football team for those who want to play.