Centennial High in Howard County will disband its varsity football team, citing a “lack of sufficient players and concern for student safety,” according to a news release from Howard County Public Schools.
The Eagles had 14 players at practices this week, players said, but more were on the way after coaches told the team they needed more participants to remain a viable program.
The decision, first reported by The Baltimore Sun, was relayed to players at around 5 p.m. on Friday. The Eagles were scheduled to open their varsity season Sept. 2 against Marriotts Ridge.
Centennial will field a junior varsity team and will allow juniors to participate. Seniors will not have a chance to play football their final year of high school, according to the release and an email Coach Carlos Dunmoodie sent the team.
“When I heard about it, I just sat at home for hours and cried,” senior Seif Mira said. He played wide receiver and defensive back for the Eagles, who went 1-9 last year after two straight winless seasons.
Dunmoodie could not be reached for comment.
Centennial had an enrollment of 1,505 during the 2016-17 school year. The Ellicott City school’s student body is 43 percent white and 37 percent Asian. U.S. News and World Report ranked Centennial as the 11th-best high school in Maryland in 2016.
School system officials met with coaches and Centennial administrators Monday morning before the team’s practice to discuss the player shortage, players said.
The Eagles had 22 players on their 2016 roster, but after injuries and transfers, only 19 finished the season, senior offensive lineman Todd Hendrix said.
At the beginning of that Monday practice, coaches told the team it needed to recruit more players so the county would not cancel the team’s season.
“We were told we might not have a season, so naturally, we hit up everyone in our phones,” senior Ryan Paterson said. He played linebacker and offensive line as a junior. “We need a body. We need anybody. People said, ‘Yeah, I’ll play,’ but by the time they got out [to practice], [the county] had already decided.”
Hendrix was not planning on playing football his senior season to focus instead on getting recruited to play college baseball, he said. But when football teammates told him their final year of the sport was on the line, he showed up to practice Thursday ready for one more season.
“This year, we knew we could do it with low numbers because we did it last year, and we were in every game,” Hendrix said.
At practice Friday, coaches were upbeat, he said.
“The demeanor was high,” Hendrix said. “The coaches said, ‘We’re playing, we’re playing. We need to get ready for our game.’ ”
Seniors will be able to try out for other fall varsity sports, according to Dunmoodie’s email to players, which was obtained by The Washington Post. They also will be able to assist the junior varsity team as student coaches.
The JV team will play its games on Friday night in the varsity’s regular time slot, according to the school system’s news release. The marching band and cheerleading squad will participate in that game like in previous years’ varsity games.
Players said enthusiasm for the football team had waned in recent years after a string of losing seasons. Fan support swung to successful boys’ soccer and basketball teams, they said, which hurt when football players asked classmates to join for the upcoming season.
“The way our school is diversity-wise, emphasis is put on different sports,” Paterson said. “We have a huge basketball culture. We have a great soccer team. Football just isn’t as popular.”