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Forest Park Board OKs switch to eight-man

CRYSTAL FALLS—One long, storied, glorious tradition will end this fall at Forest Park High School.
    Maybe next fall, a new one will start. That’s when Forest Park becomes the latest small U.P. school to make the switch from 11-man to eight-man football.
    The decision came Oct. 8 at a special meeting of the Forest Park School Board and a lengthy discussion with the general public, including players, parents and grads. It ended with the board voting 4-2 to join the Western Eight Conference starting next fall.
    Before it did, the board members listened to many passionate arguments why Trojans football should stay just the way it has always been.
    But times change. In the end, the board majority accepted the recommendation of its athletic committee, administrators and coaches (nearly all of them former Forest Park players) that the change should be made right now.
    Except for having two fewer linemen and one fewer back on the field, eight-man football is little different from 11-man. The game is played the same way. It’s still hard and physical and a test of bravery, skill and teamwork.
    It’s just not the same game that Forest Park has excelled at for generations. Athletic Director Dwaine Anderson recalled the 1965 Crystal Falls Trojans team that won the Barber Trophy, emblematic of being chosen the best U.P. team of any size.
    Both Anderson and varsity coach Dave Graff played on the Trojans and had ringside seats as Forest Park won three state championships and made many long, successful playoff runs in recent years.
    But times change. Last week, Anderson and Graff made the case that Forest Park must put 11-man behind it and embrace eight-man ... so it can
 still have football.
    Anderson made the main presentation, which made these points:
    --Fewer players have been coming out for football in recent years, and FP officials have not been able to persuade more to get involved.
    --Forest Park’s enrollment is falling, and it will keep falling. Last week, high school enrollment was 158. In five years, the projected figure is 107—down by a third. The big dip comes after the class of 2017 (this year’s junior class) graduates.
    --In the last four years, Forest Park has scheduled 34 junior varsity games. Only nine were ever played; the other 25 were called off due to lack of players, after injuries during the season.
    School officials feel a feeder program that gives freshmen and sophomores playing time against other freshmen and sophomores is essential for the future health of the program.
    --With the Great Western Conference ending this year, Hurley is moving to the West Pac Conference and can no longer play Forest Park. FP had one open date this season; now it will have at least two. The only options to fill those openings: play bigger schools like Kingsford or Menominee or travel to schools hundreds of miles away.
    --More U.P. Class D schools are switching to eight-man. There are 11 eight-man teams in the U.P. now, and the Western Eight Conference is made of Class D schools mostly in the western and central U.P. Forest Park has applied for membership and has been accepted.
    --Some of the Western Eight schools have JV teams and could play the Trojan JVs. Other Class D schools that haven’t made the change yet (Bessemer, North Dickinson) have said they would play the Trojan JVs in eight-man.
    Why does this have to be done now? Anderson said schedules for 2016 are being prepared now. If FP delays, it would be forced to stay with 11-man and maybe a partial schedule and slim prospects for JV games. “The coaches and everybody else,” he said, “decided this is not the direction we want to go.”
    What about co-ops?

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