Photo by John Cook) T.J. Moore, of the Cass City varsity football team, stretches during practice Monday in preparation for Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at Ubly. Cass City didn’t field a junior varsity team this season – possibly for the first time in school history – due to a lack of players trying out for the team. School administrators and coaches were set to meet Monday to brainstorm about ways to increase participation in school sports, including football.

Take me out, coach: Cass City sees students avoiding sports

Photo by John Cook) T.J. Moore, of the Cass City varsity football team, stretches during practice Monday in preparation for Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at Ubly. Cass City didn’t field a junior varsity team this season – possibly for the first time in school history – due to a lack of players trying out for the team. School administrators and coaches were set to meet Monday to brainstorm about ways to increase participation in school sports, including football.
(Photo by John Cook)
T.J. Moore, of the Cass City varsity football team, stretches during practice Monday in preparation for Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at Ubly. Cass City didn’t field a junior varsity team this season – possibly for the first time in school history – due to a lack of players trying out for the team. School administrators and coaches were set to meet Monday to brainstorm about ways to increase participation in school sports, including football.

They’ve canceled junior varsity football and boys’ tennis this fall at Cass City High School, where low turnout for boys’ soccer also ended that program and persuaded school officials to let Cass City players compete for nearby Unionville-Sebewaing Area High School.

Cass City administrators and coaches – including coaches of youth football teams where players start tackling in third and fourth grades – met in a brainstorming session Monday to try to find ways to increase student involvement in sports, particularly football.

“We’re being proactive in this whole recruitment of kids to athletics, not just football but athletics,” said Don Markel, Cass City school district athletic director. “It’s not a situation that we’re just kind of sitting on and doing nothing about. We’re examining some factors that we have under our control.”

Cass City High School dropped JV football, apparently for the first time ever, when only four sophomore boys tried out for the team – where 11 players take the field on both offense and defense.

Markel said the goal is to explore “things we can do as coaches and administrators to try to reinvigorate and bring some excitement to our athletic program.”

Cass City Superintendent Jeff Hartel – a former quarterback for Cass City High School – wondered if youths are tackling each other in youth football programs when they’re too young.

“I’m not a firm believer in having kids in third and fourth grade out tackling,” Hartel said. “By the time they get out here (in high school), some of them could be tired of football. If you get hit when you’re in third grade, you get scared and you’ve lost a kid before they’ve had any true coaching.”

The school district dropped boys’ soccer in the fall of 2011 “because of lack of numbers,” and again in 2014 for the same reason, Markel said.

Cass City’s enrollment has fallen steadily in recent years, though that’s not unusual among public schools in Michigan’s Thumb area, where declines in student numbers have been the norm.

Hartel said in February the Cass City district was “losing about 3.7 percent of our kids from fall to fall.” This year’s student count will be known after school starts Sept. 6.

“It’s definitely a factor,” Markel said of the enrollment decline’s effect on students trying out for sports, including football.

“I also think there has been a lot of media attention about football injuries and, specifically, concussions,” Markel said. “I think that had an impact, not only on Cass City, but all around.”

Hartel called the concern about concussions “a real issue,” noting he suffered a concussion himself as a Cass City senior in a game in 1977, but played the second half of the game despite the injury.

“I didn’t even tell anybody,” Hartel said. “I didn’t realize it until I went in at halftime and I thought ‘Something’s wrong here.’ But I didn’t say a word. You were a (coward) back then, if you did that.”

Hartel told the Cass City Board of Education at its Aug. 22 meeting that he would investigate the reasons for the loss of the JV football program.

“We’re going to talk to kids,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out why – besides just losing students – this happened. We still should be able to field a football team.”

Cass City head varsity football coach Scott Cuthrell said coaches know more about means of preventing injuries these days.

“I think the knowledge that we have as coaches – that the state has put on us – and what we’ve done with equipment improvements, it’s highly advanced, and we are more knowledgeable than 10 or 15 years ago,” Cuthrell said.

Cuthrell said Cass City coaches are trying to implement “rugby-style tackling” – using the shoulders and “more of a roll” into an opponent carrying the ball – as a safer means of tackling opponents.

Cass City’s junior varsity teams, coached by Josh Stern and Cody Halasz, went undefeated last season as well as the year before. Luke Stern, 15, Josh Stern’s son and a sophomore cornerback on the Cass City varsity football team this year, said student attitudes could be to blame for the lack of JV football.

“I think a lot of kids are just lazy and scared to get hit, like someone said earlier,” Stern said. “They’re just used to not doing anything and they like it that way, I guess. They don’t want to work.”

In recent years, high-school football schedules have begun earlier, so two games occur in August. That means football programs may start their “two-a-day” workouts in early August heat for the first two weeks of practice. Cass City practices began Aug. 8, almost one month before the first day of school Sept. 6.

“When I played (high-school) football, we started practice two weeks before school,” Cuthrell said.

Two-a-day workouts are “a long five-hour practice” split into two sessions, Cuthrell said.

“That’s part of our success, because when kids come out here, they know that it’s going to be some work, and I think some kids shy away from that,” Cuthrell said.

Numbers of students wanting to try out for football varies at Cass City. This year, for example, only four seventh-grade boys came out for the football team, though 14 boys showed up as eighth-graders.

Sandyn Cuthrell, 15, is Scott Cuthrell’s son and a 5-11, 150-pound freshman defensive back on the Cass City varsity football team.

“The numbers at our school aren’t the greatest – they’re down – and you don’t just find athletes like you used to around here,” Sandyn Cuthrell said.

“The juniors and seniors, they’re huge, and when you’re coming in as a freshman and you hear there’s no JV team, that’s going to frighten you a little bit. I already heard of a couple kids not wanting to come out because there’s not a JV team and you’re not going against kids of the same age.”

Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

3 thoughts on “Take me out, coach: Cass City sees students avoiding sports

  1. I believe that one of the greatest factors is the rising cost of professional licensing and college post high school. A kid who plays sports for a Class C or D school is not likely to get any kind of scholarship money. But if they do better on the SAT/ACT, if they get their grades up, if they take harder coursework such as AP’s or Dual Enrollment classes and such, they can get merit money. Many of them, with their parents trying to figure out how to pay for their job training and post high school education since college tuition/room/board have outpaced wages in the last ten years by 415% causing this nation to exceed 1 trillion dollars in student loan debt, are looking at a future reality in which they better spend more time on academics, and saving money from after school and summer jobs, than playing sports. Add in the cost to the parents for gear, shoes, travel…as a parent, I think I’m better off putting that money into their college funds.

    Some are going to robotics and rocketry teams, competitive academic pursuits that get colleges attention and give them something to write about come college application essay time. 4H and Scouts are also very well known for students receiving merit money for participation. Eagle Scout in particular receives a lot of recognition for the college applicant.

    Sports is just no longer the college idol it once was, and as an extra-curricular for kids in small schools, not impressive to U of MI, MSU, MTU, WMU, and other first tier colleges. While I think sports can be so very beneficial to the individual growth of a student, the reality is that in this economy when push comes to shove, it isn’t the bang for the buck as well as bang for the time that it used to be.

  2. When the average cost of playing a school sport is over $250 to $500 (not including gas for travel, personal gear…). Then you have practices that are ten hours or more a week, not including games and travel time. Schools have stepped up their academic schedules giving kids more and more homework. Who has time or the money to play extracurricular sports?

  3. Obviously, students have realized that getting injured and brain addled is something to be avoided. What are administrators going to say if many of those kids are opting to study rather than waste time on activities that are of no interest? What is instructive is the idiocy of school functionaries when faced with a repudiation of their policies. Those kids are lazy, they claim, how dare they not do what we tell them to do?

    In reality, high school sports are an enormous profit center, but only if young boys are convinced of its value, Greater number of schools are finding that teenagers want nothing to do with football, young men that are the potential fodder are no longer fooled by the non-stop hucksterism of sports pimps. If young boys and their families repudiate football, then the catalyst to borrow and spend money on stadiums and athletic build-outs disappears. That’s what’s driving this frantic bleating of administrators, they’re only there to serve the very wealthy who use public education to get wealthier…..

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