DARRINGTON — Due to low participation numbers, the Darrington High School football team is moving down to the eight-man level for the next two seasons.
Darrington, one of the smallest Class 2B schools in the state, forfeited seven scheduled 11-man games over the past two years due to low numbers. The Loggers had to suspend each of their past two seasons with three games to play.
By moving to eight-man football, Darrington hopes to eliminate the forfeits.
Class 1B schools play eight-man football, while all other classifications play the 11-man game.
“There’s a greater value in the kids being able to play a full season, than trying to play it at a certain level,” said Darrington coach Dr. Buck Marsh, who will enter his third season at the helm this fall and is also the Loggers’ athletic director and the school district’s superintendent.
The Loggers started each of the past two seasons with 20 or fewer players on the roster. But Marsh said injuries and other factors dwindled his team to 12 active players or less by the end of each season, forcing Darrington to forfeit its final three games in 2016 and four of its final five games in 2017.
During the week prior to one of last season’s forfeits, the Loggers had just nine active players participating in practice.
“Over the course of the season, with attrition (and) a couple of kids moving away, we’ve gotten to the point where … we can no longer play the varsity schedule,” Marsh said. “The majority of my players play at least 80 or 90 percent of the snaps in a game, really (compounding) the issue of attrition and minor injuries that prevent kids from being able to suit up.
“At that point, it becomes a safety issue,” he added. “It’s really tough to start (an 11-man) game knowing that you have 11 or 12 players. You really want to have a sufficient number of players (so) that everybody can have a break during the game and you can rotate players in and out.”
Marsh said Darrington will play eight-man football for the remaining two seasons of the state’s current four-year classification cycle, which runs through the 2019-20 school year.
He said the Loggers plan to play a full nine-game slate of eight-man football this season, including two games apiece against Lummi, Naselle and perennial power Neah Bay.
Because Darrington is opting down a classification for football, the Loggers currently won’t be eligible for postseason play. But Marsh said there is a proposed Washington Interscholastic Activities Association amendment that would allow opt-down football teams like Darrington to compete in the postseason beginning this fall.
“That definitely will have some ramifications for us,” said Marsh, who also is the school’s athletic director. “But at the same time, we’re not looking at this in terms of success in the playoffs or success on the field in terms of the score.
“We’re looking at it just in terms of measuring that success by being able to complete a season and being able to really take that program-wide approach to … being able to rotate athletes in and out of the game.”
The Darrington School Board approved the decision to play eight-man football during its Feb. 27 meeting.
The decision came after Darrington’s appeal to move down to 1B for all sports was denied by the WIAA in January. Marsh said Darrington has experienced a slight enrollment decline in recent years that has impacted most sports.
At the time of the most recent statewide reclassification in January 2016, Darrington was the ninth-smallest 2B school in the state with 96.63 students, based on average enrollment figures for grades 9-11. Darrington had just 15.2 more students than Neah Bay, the state’s largest 1B school.
The Darrington football team’s lone win last season came in an eight-man game against Evergreen Lutheran.
“We were able to play an eight-man game and see what the flow of that game was like,” Marsh said. “It really worked out well for us from the standpoint of it (taking) care of some of those issues. We were able to sub kids in and out … and not just put everybody out (there) because you have to fill every position.
“We’re committed to continue to have a program,” he added. “And we think the best way to continue to have a program — to keep football going at Darrington — is through eight-man.”