Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Story difficulties, downsizing, disappearance of much high-school football teams in rural Nebraska

In a great example of reporting on rural areas, Dirk Chatelain writes for the Omaha World-Herald about the fading glory of high-school football in Nebraska, which has seen the number of pigskin programs drop from 355 in 1983 to 282 in 2013. As more people leave rural areas, and populations shrink, more rural football teams fold or downsize, or schools are forced to merge. That leads to greater driving distances to find teams to play, which in turn, costs the school more money for transportation. Still, sports like football are important to small towns, for the pride of students, parents, and everyone who cares about their hometown. (World-Herald photo)

Lindsay Holy Family, a school where enrollment dropped from 336 in 1980 to only 98 this year, including just 16 boys, averaged 23.7 miles to each football game in 1988, but averaged more than 100 miles to each game during their final season this year, including a 368-mile, 19-hour journey for one game, Chatelain writes. The team, which has played eight-man and six-man football, only had 12 boys go out for the team this year, but because of injuries sometimes only dresses seven. The school, which is the only one in Lindsay, Neb., had 32 players in 2000 and 29 in 2004. (World-Herald graphic)

"Population is dwindling on the Nebraska prairie," Chatelain writes. "And football teams are disappearing. Not in Omaha or Lincoln or Kearney. But out there, off the Interstate, where the only structures taller than goal posts are water towers, grain elevators and church steeples. Out there, where Friday night games still leave the streets empty, and come Saturday morning, the quarterback is up early, vaccinating cattle."

The state only has 16 teams that play six-man football, most of which are located on the western side of the state, as opposed to Lindsay (right) in eastern Nebraska, Chatelain writes. That led to the 19-hour trip to the panhandle, which forced Holy Family to rent a 47-passenger charter for $2,600 for players, parents, and fans. After the school football account was drained, head coach Bill Mimick covered the rest of the costs out of his own pocket.

And now football stadiums stand empty, and rivalries are dying, Chatelain writes. "For decades, this two-lane ribbon between Norfolk and Columbus produced some of Nebraska's best high school rivalries. Dodge. Howells. Clarkson. Leigh. Humphrey. St. Francis. All are east of Lindsay, within 45 miles. Last spring, after one-on-one meetings with parents and an open meeting of townspeople, Holy Family decided to merge football programs in 2014 with Humphrey High, 11 miles east. The schools began a co-op for other sports this year. That decision would've been enough change for one decade. But the Bulldogs, coming off a 9-2 season, couldn't make it to '14. Coaches and parents studied the numbers — including a sophomore class of two boys and one girl — and made another tough call. They canceled their eight-man schedule and dropped to six man, even though most people in town had never seen a game." (Read more) Here's a video of Chatelain's interview with 93.7 The Ticket in Lincoln:

No comments: