E.A. Sports Today

JCA suspends football

‘It’s official,’ head coach Tommy Miller said after school received response to its intention from AHSAA Friday

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Jacksonville Christian has been fighting the numbers game on the football field for a long time. On Friday, the Thunder decided it was time to step back.

Tommy Miller, head coach and headmaster of the Class 1A private school, confirmed to East Alabama Sports Today his school would not field a football team this season.

He did not rule out its return in the near future.

JCA has played contact football on some level since the 1980s; with the exception of one year Miller has been its only coach. The school has played AHSAA football since 2001, making the playoffs in 2010 and 2014.

But it just couldn’t muster the numbers to safely field a competitive team this season.

The school sent the AHSAA a letter detailing its intentions on Monday. It received a response back Friday.

“We are very low in numbers every year,” Miller said. “Some years what we call good numbers for us are bad numbers everywhere else. We’ve had some years when we were borderline but just always had been able to get over the hump and get through it.

“We were in that situation this year where we just couldn’t do it. Back in the spring we had about nine kids. I called Coach Savarese (AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese down there and told him the situation. He said, well, try to pull it together if you can and hang on for a while and see if you can field a team, so I did.

“I honored his request. I really tried to put it out there. We had up to 12 kids – three were seventh graders. … If we would have had three more high-school aged kids, we would’ve went.”

There actually were six, but none were in a position to play – three were not eligible for one reason or another and three declined to participate. JCA has more than 100 students enrolled in its overall school, but less than 40 in its three highest grades, Miller said.

The AHSAA, using a 1.35 multiplier for private school participation, listed JCA with a 66.15 enrollment in grades 10 through 12 for its 2016-18 reclassification, making it the 11th smallest school in the state and seventh smallest playing football.

“We have to have nearly every kid in the school play football and usually have 80-90 percent play football,” Miller said.

He said the student body has handled the decision to not play football “pretty good.” He said the school hasn’t lost any potential players because of the decision.

“The ones who wanted to play are disappointed, but they’re handling it pretty well,” Miller said. “We’ll just play basketball and baseball this year and our plan is to come back with football — hopefully quickly – but we’ll just have to wait and see; that’s in the good Lord’s hands.”

The move is likely to cost the school a $250 penalty to the AHSAA and any forfeit fees involving game contracts, but Miller said he “would never” sign a huge forfeit fee contract because of its tenuous personnel situation. Dropping such an expensive sport would expectedly save a school money, but the Thunder would actually lose between $3,000-$4,000 to $8,000-$9,000 depending on gates, travel and season success by not playing, Miller said.

The decision leaves Calhoun County with 12 football-playing schools — Alexandria, Anniston, Donoho, Jacksonville, Ohatchee, Oxford, Piedmont, Pleasant Valley, Saks, Weaver, Wellborn and White Plains — and reduces Class 1A Region 6 to six teams — Cedar Bluff, Coosa Christian, Gaylesville, Spring Garden, Valley Head and Woodville.

Several of the Thunder’s opponents already had been making plans to adjust their schedules in advance of a JCA suspension. Donoho was to play the Thunder in its fourth game for Homecoming Sept. 22, but now will play Coosa Christian on that date – the same date the Conquerors were scheduled for JCA in a region game. Region rival Spring Garden is also shopping for a game.

“I hate it for JCA, for the kids,” Donoho athletics director Steve Gendron said. “They’re a small school like us and football is important.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login