Column: No Winners in Cedar Ridge Football Decision

Updated: June 20, 2018

A long conversation with a longtime local coach was winding to a close recently when he exposed a theory that made my blood run cold.

“I can see a day in 20 years when there are no high school sports.”

No high school sports? Some people would rather go without oxygen.

The coach’s thesis is there will come a time when high school sports would no longer become financially sustainable. Athletes would focus on one sport only, whether its baseball, softball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse or anything else where they could attain that elusive college scholarship. The days of two-or-three sports atheltes would steadily wither away, as would the purpose of the athlete serving the school.

Instead, the athlete could simply develop their skills with travel teams in the spring, summer and fall. To a lesser extinct, it’s already happpened with Showcase Baseball, which is one-stop shopping for college coaches where top-tier high school talent spend their summers traveling to colleges across the region to play in front of college recruiting coordinators. It’s also happened in boys and girls basketball for decades at the AAU level.

Shifting uncomfortably as I envisioned this plausible scenario, I asked this coach “How would the schools lose money?”

“Because of the loss of football,” he said.

And he we are.

Cedar Ridge was once so gung-ho about football under former coach Lou Geary, it became a tradition to hold Midnight Madness workouts on August 1st, the very second it became legal under NCHSAA bylaws to practice.

Now, the Red Wolves won’t have enough players to field a varsity team this fall. The official announcement came from the school system on Tuesday afternoon, catching even some of the people closest to the program by surprise.

What happened? There are many answers, ranging from the top of the sport to its most basic levels.

Acccording to the Aspen Institute, participation in youth football has declined 19 percent from 2011 to 2016 for kids aged 6 to 17. For the NFL, those numbers are a long-term problem. For high school, it’s a crisis right now.

”There has been a decline in our area,” said Chris Casey, a former Cedar Ridge Head Coach. “Since the NFL came out with its concussion report, it killed the Pop Warner programs and the Orange County Youth Football program. In turn, the numbers at middle school have dropped off and now you are seeing it at the high schools.”

The future of football has been increasingly in question for years now. The truth is, no one knows where the game will be in 30 years at the professional, college or high school level.

As far as Cedar Ridge’s situation is concerned, there are some things we do know.

The first one is there are no winners in this situation.

The players lose, namely the seniors, because they miss out on playing the sport they love. Last season, when East Chapel Hill didn’t field a varsity team, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools allowed Wildcat players to play at neighboring Chapel Hill High while remaining students at East. Whether Orange County Schools will allow Cedar Ridge players the same luxury at Orange remains to be seen. (Cedar Ridge will field a JV team this season, but seniors aren’t allowed on that squad).

The opponents of football, some of whom build their names and incomes off of the game while also desiring its demise, may learn about this situation and think the players are benefitting because they’re “staying safe” by not playing. If that’s true, then the seniors are just surviving life, not living it.

Cedar Ridge students lose because they miss out on the classic atmosphere of a Friday night home game. Granted, Cedar Ridge has struggled since reaching the 2-AA Eastern Regional Championship game in 2010. But where else in Hilllsborough do thousands of people, regardless of color, creed or political affiliation, gather to cheer together? To sing together? To celebrate together? To console together?

Most of all, the coaches lose. The circumstances that head coach Scott Loosemore has dealt with in his career have been nothing short of incredible. He joined the staff in 2015 as an offensive coordinator under former Burlington Cummings head coach Steve Johnson—who never even led one practice.

Johnson suffered a thoracic aortic aneurysm the week before training camp was ready to start. Loosemore stepped in as interim coach while Johnson spent the season recovering.

Loosemore was named the permanent coach in 2016 as crosstown rival Orange rose to prominence under Pat Moser. But adverse situations were nothing new for Loosemore, who led Eastern Guilford for eight seasons, including the 2006 campaign where the school literally burned to the ground.

Knowing Orange would have a numbers advantage because they have an entire side of the county to itself, Loosemore has worked tirelessly at middle schools across Hillsborough to attract students to Cedar Ridge football. He’s held private workouts on Saturdays when he could have sat home and watched the SEC. He’s held signing ceremonies for rising freshman that brought into his sincere message. He’s stayed late after school to attend lacrosse, baseball and basketball games in hopes of selling football to players.

In short, Loosemore has done a lot of work for free, all while being a newlywed and as his father was dying. He did all that not just to win football games, but to simply have the chance.

Unfortunately, the decision to quit was taken out of his hands and made by someone else. And, ultimately, everyone loses.

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