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4 declare intent for 8-man football in '18

Augusta, Decatur, Hermitage and Arkansas Christian Academy said Wednesday they want to play eight-man football by the 2018 season because of declining enrollment and low numbers.

A fifth school, Episcopal Collegiate, said it wouldn't want to play eight-man football this season because its numbers are high enough to field an 11-man team, but the school is interested in 2019.

On Wednesday, representatives from 16 schools met at the Arkansas Activities Association's office in North Little Rock to discuss the possibility of adding eight-man football in the state.

In 2017, five schools forfeited their season or at least one game because of low numbers. Augusta and Hermitage called off their seasons before they started. Woodlawn forfeited its final three games, while Decatur had two forfeit losses and Western Yell County had one.

A sixth school, Earle, which had advanced to the Class 2A semifinals, also had to forfeit its season because of the use of an ineligible player, finishing 0-11.

Decatur Superintendent Doug Gravette created a Google survey this spring and sent it to 70 schools in the state based on their average daily enrollment numbers to gauge interest in creating an eight-man football division.

For the 2018-2020 reclassification cycle, eight-man football would be a club sport. The AAA reclassifies schools across the state every two years.

The 16 schools in attendance Wednesday were Abundant Life, Arkansas Christian Academy, Augusta, Clarendon, Cutter Morning Star, Decatur, Episcopal Collegiate, Hermitage, Izard County, Midland, Mountain Pine, Nemo Vista, Strong, Trinity Christian, White County Central and Woodlawn.

Of the 16 schools, Abundant Life, Izard County, Nemo Vista, Trinity Christian and White County Central do not have football programs. Arkansas Christian Academy in Bryant plays eight-man football in the Heartland Christian School Athletic Association.

Arkansas Christian Academy Coach Bradley Lattin said eight-man football is exciting for players and coaches.

"We've had some 70-50 games, and in our state championship game we lost 14-6," Lattin said.

Steve Roberts, the AAA associate executive director, told the group of school representatives that he's had coaches across the state tell him eight-man football is going to happen.

"We have teams that are looking at their numbers of the next four, five, six years down the road, and they know football will no longer be viable at the 11-man level in their communities," Roberts said.

An eight-man football season would last 10 games, Roberts said. In a club season, there would be no playoffs.

Eight-man football schools would follow AAA rules and regulations, Roberts said, which include eligibility, coaching certification and using Arkansas Officials Association officials. Also, practices would have the same guidelines as 11-man football.

Eight-man football rules are about the same as 11-man, but the size of the playing field is smaller than a regulation field (100 yards for an 11-man field and 80 yards for eight-man).

Augusta Superintendent Cathy Tanner, a proponent of eight-man football, said if eight-man football were to happen in Arkansas, it doesn't matter what day the games will take place. Varsity 11-man football games typically occur Friday nights in the fall.

"It's for the kids and our community," Tanner said.

Decatur Principal Toby Conrad hopes eight-man football is successful in the state.

"I'm in the mindset that with the more teams we can get, it's going to be good for a lot of kids," Conrad said.

Schools have until July 1 to decide whether they want to play eight-man football. The declaration day for 11-man football is today.

Roberts told the group Wednesday he will be in charge of handling eight-man football schedules if there's enough interest.

While most representatives in the AAA meeting were positive about eight-man football, Roberts warned there will need to be more than five teams for it to work as a AAA sport.

"Those of you who have started are going to have to sell it, be positive about it and say it's the best thing that's ever happened for your school district in order for it to work," Roberts said.

Sports on 05/31/2018

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