CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod addresses decline in football participation, Castaic High School

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There are plenty of questions, big and small, lingering as the fall sports season gets underway. The Signal had the opportunity to speak with CIF-Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod and talk with some of the latest concerns surrounding sports in the Santa Clarita Valley.

In the first part of this Q & A series, Wigod fields questions on football participation, 7-on-7 football and the newly-opened Castaic High School.

Signal: What are you doing about the decreasing number of players coming out for football?

Wigod: Definitely, we’re concerned and we’re sorry to see the decline in football participation. I can only offer in response that we hope the message about football continues to get out there in terms of what’s been done to make the game healthier and safer. We have had so many changes in the playing rules, helmet to helmet contact, blocking below the waist, we have the concussion protocol that is in place now, return to play protocol, heat illness and hydration, we now have contact limits on how many minutes of full contact they allow during the week in practice.

I think anyone would agree it’s a safer game than it was 20 or 25 years ago. Does more need to be done? Certainly. We always want to make the health and safety of our athletes our No. 1 priority. 

I don’t think anyone can deny that that’s been the direction that we’ve gone not just here in California, but nationwide. So I hope we’ll see the numbers come back in the other direction.

S: Do you think 7-on-7 football could eventually become a CIF sport of its own?

W: I don’t know. I think it’s certainly growing in the high school space, if you want to call it that. There’s so many opportunities now to get involved in the 7-on-7, whether it’s through your own high school or doing it or through one of these club organizations or outside organizations that participate in 7-on-7. 

I think it’s a different game certainly than 11-on-11 football and who knows, I don’t think that would be something that would be in the short term, I think hopefully there’s still people who believe in 11-man football and believe it’s a great game and it’s a safe game for student-athletes to be a part of. If down the road, and again I don’t know that would be something in the short term, people believe we should shift away from full-on 11-on-11 football and get involved with 7-on-7.

But there are people that will tell you 7-on-7 is a very, very risky game and dangerous game at times. There isn’t the padding and protection that the players have when they’re playing with full equipment on and so there are injuries and things that can happen in 7-on-7 and doesn’t necessarily mean that the students are any better protected or less at risk in 7-on-7.

S: Castaic High School just opened in Santa Clarita and is fielding freshman teams. What kind of advice do you have for athletic programs in their first few years?

W: I always thought when I was an athletic director at two different high schools that I worked in before I came here, I always thought a dream would be to open a new high school. How exciting that would be to open a new high school. Virtually every athletic director I spoke to told me I’m crazy.

I mean there are tremendous challenges to start a brand new high school. You’re already there amongst existing high schools that have been there for a long time and have many things established that you have to start from scratch. That’s exciting because it gives you the ability to write your own story from day one, but trying to get acclimated with getting schedules made and getting equipment and coaches and facilities and just a variety of things that need to be done to run an athletics program, I know that those are daunting challenges at times. 

For a new school, just to let them know that we’re here to help them in any way that we can, they need to continue to build step by step, it’s a slow process, especially when they start with the underclass students and don’t start with the upperclass students yet. But there is a growth period that will happen and hopefully, it won’t take them all that long to feel that they’re in place and taking their place among all the other member schools, not just in the area, but in our section. 

So we’re excited to have Castaic on board, we’ve known for several years that it was coming and I know the district is excited to open up the new high school and we’re looking forward to working with them and all I would say is don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to seek any kind of guidance you need. There are no dumb questions. We’re always here to help and support you and help them get to a place where they continue to grow and develop.

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