Numbers crunch Lansdowne football Too few players may mean no varsity

September 02, 1992|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer Rich Scherr contributed to this article.

At Lansdowne High School, Fridays might not be the sam this fall.

The football stadium lights, for which many community members worked so tirelessly, may go unused. Pep rallies have been put on hold. The pompons remain in storage.

Because of a lack of interest from students and a concern for the safety of the players, Lansdowne High officials might announce today that they won't field a football team this season.

Last Tuesday, there was a "99 percent" likelihood that there would be no varsity football team, school co-athletic director Ed Walker said. Numbers would be the deciding factor. Of the 35 players who showed up for preseason practice, 25 were freshmen or sophomores, and only four had varsity experience.

This left the coaching staff with the option of pitting undersized players against much larger competition, or canceling the season for juniors and seniors to concentrate on developing the younger players for 1993. A county rule prohibits juniors and seniors from playing on the junior varsity.

"It was the consensus of our coaches that it was not to the advantage of our kids to participate on the varsity level," said Walker, emphasizing that the decision, made by himself in conjunction with the four football coaches and principal, was made strictly in the best interest of the players.

The concern for player safety was an overriding consideration.

"We had to weigh the safety of the kids and the importance of putting a team on the field," said Gary Hesselbein, four-year coach of the Vikings, who finished 0-10 last season. "We were pretty much outmatched last year, and with the age and size of the kids this year, it would've been ugly -- even dangerous."

Now, however, there is a glimmer of hope.

County schools superintendent Ron Belinko says the Vikings can forfeit the first two games of the season, and still participate for the remainder of the schedule. Principal Patsy Holmes has contacted Pikesville and Woodlawn to forfeit the games.

"When Walker called me on Monday, that was my suggestion," Belinko said. "We wanted to give them an opportunity to field a football team safely and to be fair to the kids that are already involved in the program."

If the varsity doesn't compete, the Vikings would be the first team in the area to call it quits since Hereford in the early 1980s.

"We worked with Parkville four years ago when they had a problem," said Belinko. "They forfeited the first two games, and it turned out to be a [turning point]. They've done pretty well ever since."

The players refuse to let the team die, scrambling to find new teammates. They are calling up virtually every eligible student in the Class 3A school to try to fill the roster. Holmes said they will have to come up with 12 more varsity players, more than double the number they have now.

"Today, according to [Hesselbein], there were still the same number of varsity players, 10," Holmes said Monday. "By Wednesday, we may have to make a decision, but there may be a chance to wait until school starts on Sept. 8. We don't want to give up until we absolutely have to."

Walker said: "A lot of kids work jobs; some of them have to work jobs. Some of them wait until the very last second before they'll come out for the team. Hopefully, that'll give us a chance, but, right now, I don't have any answers."

Should Lansdowne fail in its quest, teams scheduled to play the

Vikings this season would instead receive a bye. At season's end, they will have their postseason points divided by nine instead of 10 to determine playoff eligibility.

Walker said Hesselbein would remain with the program to help coach the junior varsity and, hopefully, restart the varsity next season. Two assistant coaches have been dismissed.

"We want to do what's best for the students," said co-athletic director Vivienne Dailey. "It isn't a matter of not allowing the ninth- and 10th-graders play on varsity; it's that they have to be varsity caliber."

In addition, state rules require at least 10 days of practice before players can begin full contact.

"As of right now, we have not dropped the team," Dailey said. "But we don't know how many players are going to stick with the 10 days before they can get into the physical practices."

Lansdowne High was the first Baltimore County school to have a lighted field.

"The lights were paid for by the community and the school," Dailey said. "There were donations of various products and time to install them. Everybody wants us to have a team. We want them to have a team. It's just a matter of the students going out for the team and sticking with it to have a team."

Community leaders are upset about the situation, because they raised money four years ago to have the lights installed at the field.

Jake "Shorty" Miller, said he would be heartbroken if the Vikings didn't field a varsity, even though the field is used by other sports.

As former chairman of the Lansdowne Business Association, Miller said he and "a lot of people in the community" helped raise $5,700 toward the 40 lights, which cost $350 a unit.

"The entire community was involved. We held fund-raisers and bought the materials, but Sam Mudd of C. W. Wright construction, furnished the labor and didn't charge us a penny," said Miller, 61, who owns an auction company near the school and also helped build the Vikings' marquee and scoreboard and donated the flagpole.

"Why put so much work into a program and not have a football team? I think they're letting down the whole community," Miller added. "Whether they win or lose doesn't matter, as long as they're in there playing. But it just wouldn't be Lansdowne High School without a football team."

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