The Shortest Season?
Pinecrest football coach Larry Adams will try to remain quiet on the sidelines tonight while controversy swirls all around him.
The second-year coach of the Patriots underwent a heart procedure performed in a hospital Wednesday to relieve an accelerated heartbeat. He received clearance from his doctor Thursday to attend practice and tonight's game at Southern Lee.
Also on Wednesday, Athletic Director John Buchholz confirmed that the future of varsity football season is up in the air and the school is considering playing a junior varsity and freshman schedule only for the remainder of the season. He said the main concern is the low number of varsity-caliber players available.
"We are considering all sides of the situation," he said, "but we haven't made any decision. Our main concern is the students. Hopefully, we'll have community support for whatever we decide to do,"
A decision will probably be made following the game at Southern Lee, according to Buchholz. He indicated that he, school system administrators, Principal Joel County and Adams will all be involved.
A firestorm of opinions, mostly negative, emerged Thursday when the story broke that the school was considering dropping varsity football this year.
Reached by phone, Rick Strunk, communications director of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, could not recall a 4-A school taking such action in his 20 years with the organization. He pointed out there are contractual obligations and conference fees involved.
"This is not a unilateral decision for one school -- this does affect other schools," he said. "This would be unprecedented, especially for a school that size."
The Patriots began the season two weeks ago against Union Pines with a varsity roster of 25 players, only five of them returning from a year ago. In last Friday's 40-6 loss to St. Pauls, only six of the 27 players dressed were seniors.
"We're a jayvee football team," Adams said after the St. Pauls game, "a lot of sophomores and juniors that have not played before to speak of. When they (St. Pauls) had their second string in there, which is a step ahead of the jayvee team they left home, we can play with them.
"We're playing a jayvee-level football game. That's where we're at in the program right now."
The long-beleaguered program has made it to the state playoffs only twice since the school opened in 1970, the last time in 1996. Its record in the Mid-Southeastern Conference for the past five years is 2-33, 8-45 overall.
When Adams took the job in July 2005, he and former Principal Dr. Beverly McAnulty agreed it would take five years to make the football program competitive. He feels that under the present circumstances, a decision to field only the jayvee and freshman teams for the rest of this season is the best way to stay on that track.
"Winning and losing at this juncture is not a priority," Adams said Thursday after his release from the hospital. "Protecting our youngsters is our main priority. A lot of parents are involved in this. We're responsible to the parents and their children. We want 15-year-olds playing 15-year-olds.
"If we have to bring up our sophomores before they are ready, we're right back where we've been for the last 10 years."
Adams used his health situation as an analogy to the plight of his football team. After finally setting himself down for three days and addressing a longtime problem, he said his doctor feels there is a good chance the fast heartbeat problem is behind him.
"Many times a step backward is a step forward," he said.
More than 40 freshmen came out for the team this year. The coaching staff went into this season determined to keep the underclassmen on the freshmen and jayvee teams, feeling it was in the best interest of the program for the long term, according to Adams.
Left together, last year's freshmen and sophomores finished the jayvee season on a high note. Going into the St. Pauls game, it was already necessary to dip down to the sophomores to fill injury losses on the varsity squad.
Adams and a short-handed coaching staff made a lot of progress with their players in the weight room in the off-season.
"The program is better since Coach Adams has been here than it's been in four or five years," Buchholz said. "I think we're heading in the right direction."
In addition to the seniors on the football team, a decision to cancel the varsity season would also impact the school band and the varsity cheerleaders. There would also be the loss of the gate for the four remaining home games and perhaps other consequences from the forfeiture of games.
Adams was experiencing a very sore chest area on Thursday. He is under the doctor's orders to remain calm during tonight's game, which will be a tall order.
"I feel it is the right thing to do," Adams said of shutting down the varsity season. "Whatever is decided, I'm prepared to go with it. I've got it on paper where we go from here."
Charlie Bergman can be reached at 693-2460 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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