For Cape Hatteras, it's a fall without football
Posted August 23
Buxton, N.C. — There are many things to do along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but for students at Cape Hatteras Secondary School this fall, playing football isn't one of them.
School officials made the decision to cancel the Hurricanes' football season due to low participation. Only eight players showed up on the first day of practice, and less than a week before the first game, only six players had practiced enough to be eligible to play in a game.
"It was really the first day of practice when we got an idea that something may be up," said Cape Hatteras coach T.J. Rausch, who is in his first season as the Hurricanes' coach.
Rausch said some kids couldn't make the first day because of conflicts with jobs. Others, he said, just weren't motivated enough to show up.
Administrators made the decision to cancel the season on Aug. 10 as last minute efforts to salvage the season failed.
"We needed to let everybody know," Rausch said. "That Friday we were trying to get the word out to other schools so they could try to get another game scheduled, that way they had time to do it. We didn't want to wait until the last minute and they be upset with us ... We tried to do it as early as possible."
Cape Hatteras was scheduled to play Broadwater Academy (VA) on Saturday afternoon, but the Hurricanes knew they would not have enough players. Rausch said it was very disappointing for him.
"It was my first season and I was willing to forfeit our first two games just to try to get this going. In good conscience I couldn't do it," he said. "Part of me was like, this is killing me, I've been around football for a long time, it's been my passion and it's been a goal to coach high school football one day. It was disappointing. But I couldn't in my right mind, knowing that these kids wouldn't be prepared. I didn't want anybody to get hurt."
It wasn't just disappointing for Rausch though. He said the school's athletic director, Tim Spruill, was heartbroken. And the few kids who were showing up consistently were also very disappointed.
"The kids who have been around are very disappointed. They were upset. They blew up my phone, they blew up the AD's phone," said Rausch. "The rest of the kids seemed to be like, 'Oh well.'"
For several years, participating in high school football has been on the decline nationally. North Carolina has largely bucked that trend with the exception of one year, but Cape Hatteras is not the only school in the state facing participation challenges when it comes to high school football. In the Triangle, East Chapel Hill High School did not field a varsity team this season due to lack of interest. Other schools have seen a reduction in numbers.
There has been wide speculation that the increase in awareness of head injuries, concussions and other risks associated with contact sports like football have played a role in the decreasing participation numbers, but Rausch isn't sure that's the problem at Cape Hatteras.
"That could be an underlying issue that they just didn't want to tell us, but I've only had a couple parents come back and say that," he said. "We're a small school, we play other small schools. The big schools that we do play are 30-40 strong like Broadwater Academy and Manteo, but our conference all around is averaging around 15-16 kids on a team. We just don't have the numbers, I really don't think that we do."
Instead of concussions, Rausch thinks the drop in participation for the Hurricanes deals more with tradition and distractions.
"You've got the beach here, you've got good money being made over the summer, kids are working. I think that's part of the issue," said Rausch. "I think one of the things is Cape Hatteras has never really been successful as a football program, not because there hasn't been talent or a good coaching staff, but when you're 14 strong and you play teams that are 30 or 40 strong, you're not going to have a good showing. I think kids have gotten into the thought process of, 'We're not going to be any good anyway so why should I try?'"
Rausch says he has reason for hope though. He said he has seen how resilient the people in the community are, such as after hurricanes. During the multi-day power outage on the island earlier this month that forced evacuations, Rausch still had players show up for practices at the school.
"To be honest with you, and to give a lot of credit to the people out here, they're very resilient," Rausch said, adding that he believes that trait can help the football program rebound.
"We were only going to lose two seniors, so the rest of these kids are ready to do this. They're saying, 'Coach are we going to do this next year?' That's my plan," he said.
And Rausch is putting a plan together. He's already creating a schedule for spring and summer practices, he's going to drum up interest in football at the middle school level, and he's hoping to create excitement in the community.
"I think once they realize there is no football on Friday nights, I think it will be missed. I know that there are grassroots people who are missing it already," he said. "I think this is one of those things where they pull together and get that Outer Banks pride built up inside them, and I think we can come back to life."
Rausch is also starting to talk about taking the team to a 7-on-7 camp next summer, something the school has never done. He doesn't plan to leave the school either, he wants to stick around and bring football back to the Outer Banks community.
"We're planning to have Hurricane football in 2018," he said.
Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT