Two Northern Virginia schools canceled their varsity football seasons earlier this summer. (Tony Ding/AP)

Bladensburg became the third high school in the Washington area to suspend its varsity football program for the 2018 season. 

The Prince George’s County Public Schools System made the decision Friday morning “based on information from the school’s coaching staff,” according to John White, a spokesman for the school district.

Earl Hawkins, director of interscholastic athletics at PGCPS, said the decision was made based on lack of participation and safety concerns. Team practices included roughly 31 players — not an ideal total but enough for some schools — but many of the players lack experience.

Bladensburg was set to play its season opener Friday night at Eleanor Roosevelt before it shuttered its season.

The Mustangs will still field a junior varsity team. According to Hawkins, the school has not yet decided whether varsity players will be able to participate on the junior varsity squad or be allowed to transfer to neighboring schools to play right away. Hawkins said to his knowledge, a Prince George’s County school has never had to cancel its varsity football season before this year.

Bladensburg was set to play a full slate of games against Eleanor Roosevelt, Oakdale, Wise, Gwynn Park, Largo, Northwood, Northwestern, Douglass, Friendly, Suitland and Flowers. For Bladensburg opponents, the games will not count as forfeits. Instead, they will only play nine games, according to Hawkins.

Former Bladensburg coach Lester Overton, now an assistant coach at Wise, said when he took over the program in 2014, he dealt with small participation numbers, only inheriting 26 players. But through the course of a few months, he managed to have about 28 players on junior varsity and another 28 on varsity for his first season. By his second year, that number jumped to 70, and by the third year, the school “had to request more helmets from Dick at Marlow Sports because we got up to 94 total in the entire program,” Overton said.

Two Northern Virginia schools canceled their varsity football seasons earlier this summer — Manassas Park and Park View High School. Park View, in Loudoun County, canceled its varsity schedule after only 18 players reported for tryouts. Park View juniors and seniors were eligible to transfer to neighboring Dominion High School. The Virginia High School League waived transfer restrictions.

Manassas Park was routinely drawing only 15 players at team practices. Manassas Park upperclassmen were eligible to play the Cougars’ junior varsity season. In the past decade, high school football enrollment dropped 6.6 percent, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Md., disbanded its varsity squad last year amid similar participation issues. It played a junior varsity schedule with a roster of 43 players. It is competing in a full varsity schedule this season.

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