YHS football will go ‘independent’ next year

The Yosemite High School varsity and JV football teams will not play in the North Sequoia League for the next two seasons, opting to go “independent.”

In a letter from YHS Principal Randy Seals, recently sent to the CIF Central Section and NSL school superintendents, principals, and athletic directors at Sierra, Chowchilla, Kerman, Liberty, and Washington Union, Seals noted Yosemite has been horribly overmatched in NSL football contests for much of the past five years, if not longer.

“The opening of Minarets High School split our student body, not to mention mountain communities, nearly a decade ago,” Seals wrote. “A quick look at the enrollments of both schools will yield a combination enrollment of approximately 1,100 students, roughly what YHS had prior to the opening of the new school in O’Neals. We are all still reeling from the effects of a second comprehensive high school opening in such a relatively sparsely populated area nearly a decade later.”

The YHS varsity team has gone 1-38 over the past four years, and has been averaging 16-22 players, with eight sophomores playing varsity this past season. All other YHS teams will remain in the NSL.

Seals said the decision for the football program to have independent status for the 2016-17 season is one school officials and coaches did not take lightly, “especially with regard to how highly we value the long-standing relationships we have established and maintained with all members of the North Sequoia League and throughout the Central Section. Rest assured, we have agonized over this decision and its subsequent announcement of our intentions because we fully understand the potential implications such a decision may have on our league’s member schools.”

Seals pointed out that NSL football has long been considered some of the best and most physical high school football, pound-for-pound, in the Central Section, if not within California and the nation.

“Washington Union’s California State Championship just a couple seasons ago illustrates just how powerful our league has been in our nation’s most popular sport,” Seals said. “Yosemite High School was once an elite member of the league in football, but those days were long ago. We have been hard-pressed to simply compete in our league for several years now, and the toll is rising in a number of areas in both our school and community.”

Over the past 40 years, YHS varsity football teams have won four league titles, have been co-league champs five times, and won the D-V Central Section title 2002-03.

Yosemite will play more small schools

Head coach JD Burnett has spent a lot of time on next season’s schedule that will make for more competitive games for his team. The schedule includes Parlier, Laton, Caruthers, Mariposa, Minarets, Bishop, San Juan (Citrus Heights), and Amador High in Sutter Creek. One additional game will be scheduled. All these school have enrollments under 1,000. Yosemite is currently at about 650.

The Mountain Bowl with Sierra will stay on the schedule, and YHS hopes to reinstate the Gold Nugget Bowl with Mariposa.

“We have created a schedule that will be more conducive to our school size,” Burnett said. “We are a great small school and want to compete against schools similar to us. The final determining factor is our kids’ safety ... the NSL has become dangerous for our football players. When the section re-leagues, we expect to be placed appropriately ... this is a temporary solution.”

Seals said that in recent years YHS has lost players to several section high schools, in part, to compete in football.

“These schools include not only Minarets, but also Clovis North, Mariposa, and others throughout the region,” Seals said. “While all transfers met CIF requirements, the end result was that in addition to losing students to other schools, we lost football players who are good enough to start for D-I schools, something that became a ‘double-whammy’ of sorts given the lack of depth behind those players here at YHS, given our enrollment that is struggling to remain above 600 students.”

Safety issue

Seals added the physical toll suffered by YHS players in recent years has been nothing short of staggering during North Sequoia League play.

“Over the past three years alone, our players have sustained at least 18 documented cases of concussion during league contests,” Seals said. “That’s over one concussion per game for the 15 league contests over that time period. Part of this can be explained by the high number of underclassmen used to fill a varsity roster in each of the past three seasons. Our young players simply have not been physically mature enough to handle the physical pounding incurred in the NSL.”

Parents of players have communicated to school officials that they will not allow their children to continue playing Badger football if YHS remains in the NSL, Seals said.

“Others have told us that they will transfer their children to other schools ... to prevent having their children compete on such high levels with the increased risk of injury, especially head brain trauma,” Seals said. “Junior high school parents have informed us that they are strongly considering enrollment at Minarets so that their child can participate in interscholastic high school football at much lower competitive levels and subsequent reduced risk of catastrophic injury.”

YHS Athletic Director Rusty Oetinger gave a speech prior to this year’s first home football game to students, parents, and coaches, telling each group they had a job to do.

“I told the students to be positive, cheer loud, and support your team,” Oetinger said. “I told the parents to support the coaches and players in a positive manner, and I told coaches to coach the best they can and create a competitive learning experience for every player. This past season everyone did their job. Even with a 0-9 season, everyone doing their job created a winning atmosphere, and that attitude has carried over to our winter sports.”