SCCS Athletic Director discusses decision to only field JV football team

The Santa Clarita Christian football team runs onto the field before their game against St. Bernard at Canyon High School last season. Dan Watson / The Signal
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Santa Clarita Christian School’s athletic director Mark Bates confirmed on Monday night that SCCS will not field a varsity football team this season, and instead will assemble a JV team that will partake in eight-man football.

With only 75 boys enrolled at the school, Bates cited a large graduating class in 2019 and the transfer of several players as the main reasons why SCCS would not have the numbers to fulfill a varsity roster.

“We had 11 seniors graduate from last year, we knew we were in sort of a down cycle but we thought we could make it work, and then since April we’ve had four linemen move out of the area,” Bates said. “…so that sort of made it difficult because we’re going to have to start freshmen on the line, so then we started playing eight-man and I’ve got 11th, ninth and 10th graders who want to play football. So I’m going to schedule some games for them so they can learn the game and we’ll grow the program from there.”

In addition to losing four linemen to relocation, the second-leading receiver from last season Carson Schwesinger announced his transfer to Oaks Christian in Westlake Village earlier this summer.

Schwesinger caught 47 passes for 624 yards and six touchdowns last season, and losing his production certainly didn’t help the situation.

The large graduating class, Schwesinger’s transfer and the four linemen who moved out of the area took a toll on the program, and there just weren’t enough players to compose a varsity roster.

“That happened early enough that it was obviously a shock because it was something that was like, okay, move forward,” Bates said about Schwesinger’s transfer. “We had a plan in place and were looking like we were going to do it. We were going to be young and have some inexperience, but it looked like we would be able to pull it off and the biggest one was the accumulation of the four linemen that left, and once they left we contemplated eight-man.”

SCCS started off as an eight-man program, but was able to switch to an 11-man program in 2011. The team flourished in the last couple of years, going 11-1 in 2017 including a Division 13 playoff victory. Last season the Cardinals finished 7-3, and starting quarterback Blake Kirshner was able to bring eyes to the program with his stellar play, later committing to UCLA. 

Now, the Cardinals won’t be able to continue that streak off 11-man football, but Bates said the response from parents has been very supportive.

“Very positive, they just want, the school as well, they just want what’s best for the kids,” Bates said. “They want to put their kids in a position where they can have fun and learn the game and also learn the lessons that football teaches. There hasn’t been, I haven’t heard anything like, ‘If we’re not playing 11-man, we’re not playing.’”

On a national level, football numbers are diminishing in size, making it difficult for smaller programs like SCCS to maintain a typical 11-man varsity team.

Foothill League teams are dealing with the very same issue. Hart High School, for example, had close to 70 kids on the varsity roster in 2015, and less than five years later, the Indians are fielding a team of less than 40.

Last year, Canyon was decimated by so many injuries, the Cowboys had less than 30 players dressed for the final game of the season.

However, public schools tend to have a larger enrollment, so participation numbers rarely fall below the required threshold. 

“Schools like Valencia or Hart adds seven or eight players or loses seven or eight, when they have 50 on varsity it doesn’t change a whole lot,” Bates said. “When we lose seven or eight players it’s a huge difference in what we’re able to do. We’re in a down cycle. It’s been this way since elementary school with the junior or senior class in terms of low numbers when it comes to football.”

With the season fast approaching, Bates is continuing to work on restructuring the program and schedule.

In terms of the annual Faith Bowl with Trinity Classical Academy, Bates had a discussion with Trinity’s athletic director Matt Dixon recently, and the two will turn to the community to see if an eight-man JV game is in the cards.

If things go according to plan, SCCS will start its eight-man JV schedule in September, and the freshmen and sophomores interested in football will have a chance to learn the game.

“Made a couple calls yesterday for eight-man and they’re sort of, smaller schools like us, the eight-man schools practice next week,” Bates said. “So we’re sort of on hold until they practice and we’ll start scheduling around their games.”

Haley Sawyer contributed to this report.

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