The fate of local football

(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

(KAIT) - High school football coaches across the state are seeing a drop in football enrollment.

The number of plays has dropped from 11,120 in the 2015-2016 season to 10,754 in the 2016-2017 season and coaches are taking notice.

"I've talked to different coaches and it's the same, numbers are dropping everywhere throughout the state," said Pocahontas High School Football Coach Charles Baty.

Even his large football team has lost a few players this season.

"We're down seven kids from what we had last year," he said. "A lot of that's class size, a lot of that's participation size."

Despite the drop in enrollment, Baty's team isn't struggling.

However, he said the drop is something that can especially hurt a small school district.

One school in Arkansas that has taken a hit this football season is Augusta High School.

Augusta's team also lost seven players this season, which meant they didn't have enough to field a team.

"It was tough for the 9 or 10 that were committed and [were] there most of the time, I hated that," said Coach Jay Murphree. "But, it was the decision we felt was in the best interest of the program, the school, and the kids.

With many coaches taking notice of the drop, some are changing their approach to the game.

At Pocahontas High School they've implemented a no-cut policy that Coach Baty hopes will inspire players to stay on the team for more than just playing.

"If you have a standard there and you treat kids good and they can meet that standard, and give yourself a chance to be successful, ultimately, you'll gain numbers because you're winning some football games," Baty said. "I think kids want to be part of a winning program."

However, enrollment and program quality aren't the only issues.

More parents are becoming concerned about what their kids are risking to play the contact sport.

Dr. Shane Speights, dean of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, says more people are becoming aware of the physical risks.

"Obviously contact sports have a higher risk," he said. "So, sports like American-style football, soccer has a higher risk, anything where you're going to have direct impact with the brain with the skull."

He said there has been an influx of new information recently about the risk of concussions among young football players.

"We're getting more and more of this data," he said. "Probably in the last three years we've seen almost an explosion, so to speak, of neurologic data that is driving a lot of this concern."

Speights says coaches and players are now taking more precautions and are held to a higher standard.

He says once a concussion is diagnosed, players need to be off the field for a certain length of time.

"It's five days before they can actually return to full play," he said.  "There's been some new information that says we should look at gradual return."

Coach Baty says the concussion protocol is something that has changed since he played.

"If you got a headache, it was no big deal you went back out there," he said.

Now Arkansas coaches are required to get certified on updated concussion protocol every three years.

Baty is glad coaches are now focusing more on a player's health on and off the field.

"We ran into it twice this year with our football program," he said.  "Early on we had kids that had to go through protocol, you know and in my mind, that's a good thing."

With multiple possibilities as to what could cause the drop in enrollment, Augusta is trying to build a better program.

Coach Murphree said he hopes his team can be a success story.

"In the off-season, we can start building that team unity," he said.  "Moving 9th grade up, bring the ones that we already have out."

He said next year the school plans to field a team once again.

"I think we've got a good group of committed kids and with the younger ones, I think we'll be fine in the future," he said.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

Watch Region 8 News On Demand: On your Desktop | On your Mobile device

Region 8 News App - Install or update on your: iPhone | Android