When Mission Prep begins the football season next week, it will do so without a junior varsity football team.
Athletic director Vic Ecklund said the program was discontinued because of a lack of participation. Just eight freshmen showed up to play football this season.
Mission Prep is the only school in either of the two major San Luis Obispo County conferences (PAC 5 and Northern League) that will not field a junior varsity team.
“Basically we’ve seen a two-year cycle of our numbers going down,” Ecklund said. “Everyone’s numbers are down a certain percentage.”
But, you don’t have to go far to find an example of an upward trend in football participation.
About a mile away, the football numbers at San Luis Obispo High are “way up,” according to coach Pat Johnston.
The second-year head coach says that last year’s team had 35 players. When the season begins next week, the Tigers will suit up 47.
Johnston gives credit to his players for the jump.
“They have been trying to recruit kids from other sports, so the kids are really doing a good job of letting other students know that we are trying to do something special,” Johnston said.
Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said his varsity numbers are around 60, about the same as the Eagles had last year.
“We have had unbelievable turnout for the last five years and have not seen any decline in participation,” Goossen said.
He did concede that Arroyo Grande saw one of its smallest freshmen football classes in years this season, but chalked it up to the natural ups and downs. Atascadero athletic director Sam DeRose says his varsity team has grown by about 20 players and the junior varsity team is up to 42, but added it has gone back and forth through the years.
“I think it has to do with a culmination of experience, relationships and results,” DeRose said.
Templeton, however, has seen a drop in participation despite the success of last season’s team.
“We started off in winter with 44 kids and it slowly dwindled down,” said coach Dan Loney who will lead a team of 33 when the season begins Friday. He believes the drop is because of the high physical demands of football and the long season.
Morro Bay coach David Kelley and Nipomo athletic director Russ Edwards said their team’s varsity numbers are about the same — 27 and 51, respectively. Edwards said Nipomo has five fewer JV players this year than last year.
Ecklund said that even a slight drop in participation at Mission Prep has a big impact because of the small size of the school, with enrollment numbers around 380 students.
When asked, Ecklund said a 2013 lawsuit that continued to move through the courts earlier this month had nothing to do with the recent downward participation trend.
“The parents in our area are very supportive of football. We don’t hear from parents who don’t want their kids to play,” Ecklund said.
But Mission Prep, like other schools in the area, have taken steps to make sure the football numbers increase.
“We have a youth team that is practicing on campus and that is something that will hopefully help stimulate football in the area,” Ecklund said.