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Weber School District discontinues junior high football; one Northern Utah coach sees positives to come

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Mar 7, 2024

MATT HERP, Standard-Examiner file photo

In this Nov. 2, 2017, photo, South Ogden's Jordan Citte, left, is tackled by Wahlquist's Drew Erwin during the Weber district junior high championship game at Bonneville High School

In a move based largely on declining participation, Weber School District has discontinued junior high football.

The Weber School Board voted to approve the move Wednesday night after a recommendation from the district’s junior high football committee and notified employees and parents of the decision via email Thursday.

In the Thursday message, the district cites low participation and the connected safety issues to players, difficulty in retaining coaches, cost, and lukewarm feedback to a community survey as components in the decision. The district plans to research and select a new sport to replace football at its junior highs.

Ninth grade football players will be encouraged to participate in high school teams and the district says it will “collaborate” with local municipalities and their football programs for other junior high students interested in playing.

“We had about 350 kids last year … and that number dropped to just over 200 this year that wanted to play junior high football,” district spokesman Lane Findlay told the Standard-Examiner. “It creates so many challenges in trying to fill teams … you have very large junior high schools with 1,100 kids versus a smaller junior high that maybe only has 500 or 600.

Photo supplied, Diane Calvert

Wahlquist Jr. High defenders (green) pursue a TH Bell ball carrier in the Weber School District junior high football championship game Thursday, Nov. 3, at Bonneville High School in Washington Terrace.

“I mean, we had one junior high that had 12 kids (who) expressed interest in playing, and you can’t build a football team with 12 kids.”

A resulting gap between different schools both in skill level and how many kids play both sides of the ball led to safety concerns among coaches and parents, Findlay said.

Not coincidentally, the district will open a new junior high in West Haven this fall — Mountain View Junior High — further exacerbating low participation that has required two combined teams (Orion with North Ogden, T.H. Bell with South Ogden) in four of the last six seasons.

The district says it would cost $60,000 to launch a football program at the new school and yearly ongoing costs for each team in the district is $50,000 when accounting for coaches, transportation and officials.

Additionally, Findlay says, three of the seven head coaches told the district after the 2023 season that they would not return in those duties.

“That creates challenges trying to build consistency and making sure you have highly qualified people that are in those positions,” Findlay said.

A survey sent to parents and district employees in the fall was 50-50, Findlay says, on the question of if the district should continue junior high football. Absent overwhelming support, the other concerns tipped the scale.

While reaction is likely to be mixed, one person with a long history of playing and coaching in the district sees positives for the sport and those who play it in Weber County.

“Overall, I’m pretty excited about the decision,” said Eric Jones, head football coach at soon-to-open West Field High School. “I think it will pay dividends for all the high schools in Weber County and for kids who play the sport.”

Jones reflected on his own experience growing up in Weber schools where seventh graders are almost always “redshirted,” eighth grade players may or may not see the field and, when they reach ninth grade, they play a total of six games.

“From a developmental standpoint … I feel like that stunts their development and growth in the sport,” Jones said. “Now those younger kids can play youth football in some capacity and get out on the field a lot more.”

Jones, who was an assistant coach at Roy High for 11 years, says he has long felt junior high football compelled more kids, especially those who are late to develop physically, to give up the sport.

“I feel like kids got lost too early in the process, instead of keeping them around longer and they have a shot to shine later on,” he said. “As a community, both from a recreation standpoint with youth teams and our high schools, we should be trying to provide as many avenues to participate as possible. I always felt like junior high football really sped up the bottle-neck process of participation.”

Jones feels the elimination of junior high football will also alleviate participation and safety concerns some Weber County high schools have similarly dealt with.

“The 11 seasons we were at Roy, there was never one season we didn’t have to ask seniors to play JV football … just so you can fill the team. In some of those regions we belonged to, if you couldn’t field one of your sub-varsity teams, you got fined,” Jones said. “Now you’ve got four grade levels to field three teams … which is how it is everywhere else.

“As a head coach, I’m very opposed to having kids play more than one game per week … having freshmen in the building should alleviate those issues.”

The district’s Thursday email touts its nine other extracurricular activities (boys and girls basketball, boys and girls track, baseball, softball, girls volleyball, cheerleading and National Academic League) as the most junior high offerings from any district in Utah.

“We will continue to offer a robust list of sports and extracurricular activities in our junior high schools,” the message reads. “These activities are GOOD for kids!”

The district says it plans to choose a replacement activity and launch it in the 2025-26 school year.

“This replacement sport will likely be aligned with a UHSAA-sanctioned sport currently offered at the high school level,” the email says.

Rocky Mountain’s football league title to open the 2023-24 school year will be the last in Weber School District.

Standard-Examiner reporter Ryan Aston contributed to this report.


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