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Saturday June 25th

East Chapel Hill High School won't have a varsity football team in 2017

<p>The varsity football program at East Chapel Hill High School has been cancelled due to a lack of student interest.&nbsp;Photo Courtesy of Ryan Johnson.</p>
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The varsity football program at East Chapel Hill High School has been cancelled due to a lack of student interest. Photo Courtesy of Ryan Johnson.

The interest is so low for East Chapel Hill High School that they will not have a varsity football program in 2017. Instead, they will only have a junior varsity team.

“The decision came about because we’ve been doing the same thing the last three or four years, our numbers aren’t climbing and we’re not keeping kids consistently, so we have young guys coming from middle school jumping straight to the varsity level competing against guys who have had a chance to develop and going on to play in college potentially, so skill levels are not equal,” said Ryan Johnson, head coach of East Chapel Hill.

Johnson has coached at East for four years and has been a football coach for 12 years. He said over his coaching career he has noticed fewer and fewer players coming out, which he said is in part due to recent concussion studies.

Mujahid Turner is a senior at East Chapel Hill, and has played football for the Wildcats all four years.

“The lack of interest is basically stemming from that the players we’ve been trying to recruit have been freshmen and sophomores, so playing freshmen and sophomores in that situation they end up playing like grown men that are going to the next level playing in college,” Turner said. “Putting them in that situation, they don’t really want to play, so they find other sports to play and that ultimately turns out to be the downfall for our team.”

For Chapel Hill High School, the interest began declining three years ago with the 2014 season. Issac Marsh, head coach of the Chapel Hill Tigers, has been coaching there for 19 years.

“I think the scare of concussions along with the growing interest in other sports that have become popular over the last recent years is part of it,” Marsh said.

However, Marsh said he doesn’t think the popularity of basketball in Chapel Hill is a cause of the declining interest.

“We have always had basketball and Chapel Hill has always been a basketball town, so I don’t see the success of basketball affecting football,” he said, “I just think it’s a growing change in the culture that we’re facing and we just have to get out and promote football and try to explain the safety precautions that are in place with us.”

Marsh said the team is doing as much as they can to promote the football team.

“Right now we’re making a push to increase interest by doing a lot of little things,” he said, “We’re hosting a youth camp this upcoming year, but we are planning on having a junior varsity team, as well as a varsity team.”

Jason Mihalik is the co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC. His research focuses on head trauma with clinical outcomes in athletes.

“I am not sure that concussion alone is to blame for low enrollment,” he said, “I have not seen any studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that explicitly state football is ‘dangerous.’ I subscribe to the belief that football is a collision sport that carries an inherent risk of injury. I feel the injury risk is far outweighed by physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.”

Mihalik is not against letting his own son play football.

“If my son (who is still a newborn) wanted to play football, I would strongly consider it,” he said in an email.



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