HEISER: Fairfield's numbers problem may become scheduling problem for Division III foes

  • Fairfield has just 25 players signed up for football, with 14 of those players just freshmen.
  • If Fairfield can't entice more upperclassmen to join the team, the varsity season will be canceled.
  • If Fairfield doesn't field a varsity team, its foes will suddenly have a scheduling issue in 2018.

The Fairfield High School football team has a serious numbers problem this season.

Fairfield's Nick Mezger, front, gets pulled down by York Tech's Logan Heilman during football action at York County School of Technology in York Township, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. York Tech would fall to Fairfield, 30-22. Because of a low turnout of upperclassmen, Fairfield may not be able to field a football team in 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

That might turn into a serious scheduling problem for its York-Adams League Division III foes.

The Class 1-A Green Knights are the smallest program in the local league. Not surprisingly, the school in western Adams County has long struggled to fill out a decent-sized football roster.

This year, however, the problem is particularly acute.

Tuesday, Fairfield athletic director Crystal Heller confirmed a Gettysburg Times report that Fairfield has just 25 football players currently signed up for the team. Unfortunately, 14 of those players are just freshmen.

As a result, Heller said Fairfield will not field a varsity team this season unless more upperclassmen can be persuaded to come out for football. Heller said fielding a 25-man team, featuring 14 freshmen, would be a liability issue.

That makes perfect sense. Most freshman boys simply are not prepared to compete against senior boys in a physical sport such as football. The possibility of serious injury is just too great.

Thurston hired: The challenging job of recruiting more players will fall on the shoulders of Fairfield’s new head coach, Jason Thurston.

The former New Oxford High School head coach has been thrown into a rather desperate situation. Thurston, who was 10-21 in three years with the Colonials, was unanimously approved as Fairfield’s head coach Monday evening. He only interviewed for the head coaching job last week and was hired just a couple days later.

He succeeds Darwin Seiler, who resigned in May. Thurston was reportedly the only applicant for the job.

Sales job needed: Thurston will need some impressive salesmanship skills. Convincing reluctant teen boys to come out for football at such a late date will be a daunting task.

The well-documented dangers of playing football, especially the dangers of concussions, have been in the headlines constantly in recent years. Those dangers could give pause to many players and parents when deciding whether or not to pursue the sport.

If Thurston is unsuccessful, Fairfield will play only at the junior varsity level this season.

A Division III problem: That’s when Fairfield’s problem will become a problem for the other football teams in Division III.

Those schools — York Catholic, York Tech, Hanover, Delone Catholic, Bermudian Springs, Littlestown and Biglerville — will suddenly have an open date on their 2018 schedule.

Trying to fill that opening, at this late date, will border on the impossible. Other nearby foes of similar size with similar open dates are practically nonexistent.

At this point, Heller said it’s uncertain if Fairfield’s scheduled foes will get a forfeit if the Knights can't field a varsity team, or if it will simply count as no contest. District 3 official Rod Frisco also couldn’t provide an answer to that question. Frisco said, if necessary, the district will address that issue at an Aug. 8 meeting.

Hoping for final answer by Monday: Heller is hoping to have a final answer about Fairfield’s 2018 varsity prospects by Monday. Even if the Knights can’t field a team in 2018, Heller said the goal is to have a varsity program in 2019.

When contacted Tuesday, York-Adams League executive director Chuck Abbott said he was unaware of Fairfield’s plight and had not heard from the school.

Heller, meanwhile, said that Fairfield’s “situation with lack of coaching and low numbers was brought up for discussion and advisement at the (York-Adams League) summer workshop in June.”

Knights have been competitive: Fairfield has fielded some competitive teams in six seasons under Seiler. Last year, the Knights finished 4-7 and fell in the District 3 1-A championship game. They were 5-5 in 2014 and 6-5 in 2013. Since 2013, Fairfield has an overall record of 20-32. Seiler’s first team in 2012 finished 1-9, but ended a 37-game losing streak. Fairfield started varsity football in 2004.

Now the question is this: Will Fairfield even field a varsity team in 2018?

The answer will hopefully come soon. Time is running short for everyone involved. The first official day of practice is Monday, Aug. 13, but the heat acclimation process starts the previous week. The season opener is Friday, Aug. 24.

The ultimate decision, of course, will be of intense interest to football fans in Adams County.

It could, however, also have a major impact on several interested schools here in York County.

Stay tuned.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at