PARK FALLS - For decades, athletes have played high school football in Park Falls.
"As far as I know football has existed here, we could probably go back to the 30s and 40s," said Chequamegon Activities Director Daren Patterson.
But now the school board may cut the varsity program this fall. That's something Screaming Eagle players are hoping to avoid.
"Nobody joins football with the intentions of just playing a JV schedule when they're a senior, and even when you're a junior you're trying to make that leap into [being] a better player," said Chequamegon junior Joe Wagner.
But Chequamegon had just 12 juniors and seniors on its roster during the 2017 season. By comparison, conference rivals Rib Lake-Prentice had 21 while Marathon played with 24.
That gap led to concerns from Chequamegon administration.
"Certainly there's the safety side there, which is certainly number one," said Patterson.
Having fewer upperclassmen increases the risk of injury when younger, smaller athletes must play against older, bigger players on opposing teams. It also forces players to play more, which creates fatigue and more injuries.
But Patterson says there's potential for better numbers, and better success, in the future.
"Our middle school kids last year went 5-1 in their season and we also have 30-plus kids out for Pop Warner football," said Patterson.
Players, parents and administration have also discussed a potential move to 8-man football league, much like the move Phillips made last year.
But in a meeting on February 27th, it became clear that wasn't the most popular option.
"The wishes of the players and the parents and the coaches all came down uniformly on the side of 11-man [football]," said Chequamegon District Administrator Dave Anderson.
The move to 8-man football would create several questions for the Screaming Eagles. With an average school population during the last three years of 244, Chequamegon is too large to play in the 8-man playoff.
Scheduling and travel would also be very difficult with only about two dozen 8-man teams existing across Wisconsin.
And Patterson says that's not a decision that should be made quickly.
"We're not going to be fluctuating every year, 8-man, 11-man, what are we? So any decisions we make now in 2018 we have to think about 2019, 2020, 2021 and so on," said Patterson.
Some players say they're hoping to see a different kind of change.
"I'd like to see a change in schedule, like an independent schedule, because right now we're playing teams like Edgar and Stratford, who are just really good. They're really dominant and established programs," said Wagner.
No matter the outcome, Wagner says his biggest hope is to have a season to play during his senior year.
"We've been playing since fifth grade and to have your last season, the season that's supposed to be the best, when we have the best opportunity to play varsity and win, if it's taken away would [make us really upset]," said Wagner.
The next discussion regarding the football program will be held at this Thursday's Board of Education meeting.
The board has not said whether or not it will make a final decision at that time.
Story By: Mark Spillane