The Illinois high school football season got underway Friday with teams around the state taking the gridiron after an offseason of workouts and two-a-days. But of the hundreds of schools competing over the weekend, North Shore Country Day was absent.
Football has been a staple at the private school since its founding in 1919. Participating in the sports was a requirement at the school from 1919 until roughly 1970, according to an email from Raiders athletic director Patrick McHugh.
But prior to the start of the program’s 99th season, NSCD head of school Tom Flemma announced the program’s termination in a June 29 email to the school community.
“I have spent the last few months assessing the situation with Head Coach Erik Cooper, Upper School Head Dave Potter, Athletic Director Patrick McHugh, coaches, members of our Board of Trustees and others,” the email read in part. “We have all come to the same conclusion: the steady decline in the number of boys playing football has created a situation where it is unwise and unsafe to field a team.”
The decision came two years after another major decision for the program: NSCD moved to eight-man football for the 2015 season.
The Raiders had just 16 players on the roster in 2016 and 15 in 2015. Cooper, who is also the upper school dean of students, said 16 is the minimum required to field a team — 16 healthy players are necessary to scrimmage — and that they were projecting fewer than 15 players for the 2017 season.
“When you get to a sort of certain threshold, around 15, 16, then you really start to have concerns about being able to play safely, and safety for our kids is the absolute No. 1 concern,” Cooper said. “When we dipped below those numbers, we had to make a very, very difficult decision. We really labored over it — football has been a part of our school since the beginning, and it’s important in our community, and our head of school really wanted to keep football going.”
Cooper said they considered many options, including bringing in students from other schools to join the NSCD team, sending its players to another local team or even merging with another team, but none were viable.
For players planning to play this fall, NSCD is offering a workout training program to allow them to train together as a group, as well as work on “strength, speed, agility and football skills,” according to Flemma’s email.
Evan Airey, who played for…