TRI-COUNTY LEAGUE At Sebring and Southern, the numbers don't add up
The schools have difficulty attracting varsity football players.
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While most area high school football programs boast large rosters and field varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams, two Tri-County League teams struggle to field a varsity squad.
Sebring and Southern Local finished in the bottom tier of TCL teams last season.
Sebring has 26 players on the roster this season under new coach Joe Lee. The Trojans had 19 players last year, 17 in 2000 and 15 players in 1999, Lee said.
Lee faces the challenge of turning an 0-9 team a year ago into a competitive team in his 11th year with the Sebring football program. Last spring, the Trojans asked TCL officials if they could stay in the league in every sport but football. The request was denied.
Sebring can only improve in 2002. The team showed signs of improvement in a recent scrimmage by defeating Conotton Valley 12-0.
Sebring can also look forward to larger classes in the future. The sixth grade class consists of 79, and 22 are members of the football team. The eighth grade class is also substantially larger than many of the others in the school district, Lee said.
In past years, Sebring basketball players were discouraged from also playing football. But there are several basketball players on this year's football team.
Lee doesn't know why football isn't popular at Sebring, but he's doing his best to change that. Lee talked with fellow TCL coach Brian Blevins of East Palestine and inquired as to how he gets more kids to play for the team.
"He told me to talk to my players and make it one of their responsibilities to get their friends and classmates to play," said Lee. "So I told my players that this is their team and they can help."
Southern, which went 2-8 last season, has many of the same problems. Coach Dave Kell, now in his second year, describes the situation as "the most challenging coaching job in the TCL."
The Indians have 18 players out for football this season, down 10 from last season.
"We actually thought we would have 24 or 25," Kell said. "But one kid transferred, we lost two or three to ineligibility, another kid moved out of the district. Four or five that we were counting on slipped out of our hands."
Kell has been with the Southern football program since 1995, and each year numbers have been low, he said. The Indians had around 10 players participate in conditioning drills this year.
"It's tough coming to work," Kell said. "If two kids miss, you're going to call practice. Several times we didn't know if we were going to have a team."
If there is a solution to the problem, the Indians, who have around 120 boys in the school, are still trying to find it.
"The kids, for some reason, don't want to come out," Kell said. "You could bring Lou Holtz in, and I don't know if they would come out for him, either."
Southern's two wins last season came against Sebring (48-14) and Bridgeport (46-6). The Indians even led Lisbon 19-0 in a game last season, only to lose 20-19.
"By the fourth quarter, they're just so drained," Kell said. "We had Lisbon 19-0 and we go into the fourth quarter and just run out of gas. Give credit to Lisbon, they came back and won, but if we would have had subs, we would have done a lot better."
Southern is on dangerous ground. If the team happens to suffer serious injuries, the program would have trouble fielding a team.
"If we get one or two bad injuries, we're done," Kell said. "We have key players both ways. You can't just put in a freshman who's not ready to play."