East Chapel Hill football players turned in their equipment and uniforms last week. Members of the program admit they are at a loss about how to proceed after the Wildcats forfeited their last two games of the season.
Citing a lack of healthy players, winless East Chapel Hill felt compelled last week to forgo games Oct. 31 at former state champion Durham Hillside and Nov. 7 at home against Durham Jordan. The Wildcats had also forfeited an Oct. 17 road game to Northern Durham.
“It all came down to the fact that we just couldn’t field a team,” East Chapel Hill first-year coach Mike Holderman said. “I have never encountered anything like this situation before.
“We played a game Monday against Riverside and had 16 players at practice on the Tuesday before the Northern game. You can’t take a team into a tough game with that few players.”
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East Chapel Hill had 19 players at its last practice on Oct. 28. Holderman went to athletics director Ray Hartsfield to discuss the matter, and they quickly agreed that playing another game against Hillside, winner of 31 consecutive conference games at that point, was fruitless, if not dangerous.
“It’s an issue of safety,” Holderman said. “With so few players, a lot of them are playing both ways and getting exhausted during the game. That increases the chances of injury.”
Holderman informed his players of the decision to forfeit immediately after that Tuesday practice. The announcement was met with “complete silence.”
East Chapel Hill will end the season at 0-11, 0-5 in the Piedmont Athletic Conference.
“We wanted to finish the season,” East Chapel Hill quarterback Brater Gerber said. “But I can clearly see why it happened this way. No one is going to be safe playing in a game with that number of kids.”
The Wildcats’ three forfeits were the first ever for the East Chapel Hill football program, which has never enjoyed a winning season since it fielded a varsity team for a full schedule in 1999. Since then, East Chapel Hill compiled an overall record of 32-143, including a six-year stretch (2005-2010) when the Wildcats never won more than one game in any season.
But East Chapel Hill is not alone in its misery.
The New York Times recently noted other high school football programs have prematurely ended their seasons because of thinning lineups.
In recent years, teams in Minnesota, Washington, Michigan and New York have forfeited seasons. In October, Colorado Springs Cheyenne Mountain High canceled the remainder of its season after its initial roster of 45 players was reduced to 12 “through a mix of dismissals, eligibility issues and injuries,” the NYT reported. “The same thing happened in Portland, Ore., where Madison High School last week forfeited its final game of the season because of injuries.”
Former coach Bill Renner led the Wildcats to a 5-5 regular-season record in 2012, his last year before retiring as a school teacher. Jon Sherman was coach for one year, going 3-8 in 2013. He resigned last May to become an assistant coach at Fayetteville Jack Britt.
Holderman was named head coach last summer, receiving his official appointment four days before the start of the 2014 season. East Chapel Hill had 43 players on its roster.
“We need to build interest in the team,” said senior linebacker D.J. Recny, a top player until a mid-season thigh contusion. “People don’t want to play because we’re losing, and we’re losing because people don’t want to play.”
Holderman’s arrival in Chapel Hill came too late for the Wildcats to benefit from off-season workouts.
“The team was in disarray over the summer. They had no spring workouts, no summer workouts, no 7-on-7 over the summer,” said Michael Recny, D.J.’s father. “It was a very difficult situation from the start.
“Coach Holderman did everything he possibly could to make the program successful after he arrived. But any coach would have found the situation a tremendous challenge.”
Holderman said he will formulate a strategy to rebuild the program.
“This is uncharted territory for us. I’m just going to reach out to all my coaching colleagues and get together a game plan,” Holderman said. “Things could go a lot differently if we get enough kids to come out.”