Uncertain Future: Low numbers raising major concerns for viability of Sheffield football program

Sheffield players run out onto the field before a game against Port Allegany on Oct. 8, 2016. The Wolverines are dealing with low numbers as they attempt to keep the program afloat.

A lack of regular attendance during spring and summer workouts and uncertainty about the number of athletes willing to participate has raised questions about the viability of the Sheffield football program, the Times Observer has learned.

A meeting between Warren County School District officials and Sheffield players and parents is scheduled for July 12 to assess how many players the Wolverines have committed to playing this season. If the district determines Sheffield could potentially face a situation similar to what happened at Youngsville in 2016, the program may be dissolved at Sheffield and any athletes wishing to play would co-op with Warren.

“They want to be sure we have enough players that we don’t forfeit games due to injury and things of that nature,” new Sheffield coach Chris Korbar posted to the teams Facebook page Monday.

“I’ve been told the district wants us to have ’16 capable athletes,'” Korbar told the Times Observer Monday. “I need my community to figure some things out and step up to the plate. It’s not that people aren’t out there, they just don’t want to right now.”

The revelation comes just after the WCSD Board of Directors tabled a proposal to merge sports at Eisenhower and Youngsville. The push for that action was to prevent situations where programs are scrambling for players heading into a season. The original “Model B” proposal called for nearly across-the-board co-ops between Eisenhower and Youngsville and Sheffield and Warren. Through board discussion, Model B was reduced to creating new co-ops only for boys and girls cross country, wrestling, softball and baseball between Eisenhower and Youngsville.

“We’ll have a better idea (about the viability of the program) at the next voting meeting July 30,” WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said during Friday’s WCSD board meeting. “We have talked to the PIAA and have some options (since) the formal season won’t have started yet. That’s the last time we’ll be together and we may need to make a decision on that team.”

Following a team meeting June 26, Korbar said he had 15 players firmly committed to playing this season. Twelve attended the meeting and he said three more told him they were playing but couldn’t attend due to other obligations that night.

“We’re going to have a decent turnout from what I’m gathering,” Korbar said after the meeting. “I told the 12 there I want it doubled by Sunday (July 1).”

Korbar posted to Facebook Monday that 12 varsity and one junior high player attended Sunday’s session. The class breakdown for players currently in attendance is nearly even. Korbar said he has three each of seniors, juniors and sophomores and four freshmen. The Wolverines opened last season with 28 players on the roster, counting both Sheffield and Abraxas athletes. In 2016, Sheffield had 23 players on the opening day roster.

Korbar said he expects an additional 12 players will arrive via the co-op with Abraxas. Though even the decades old partnership between the schools is beginning to strain as Abraxas officials have expressed concern about the burden being put on their players to fill out the football roster.

Abraxas and WCSD officials met last week to discuss those expectations and what Abraxas’ role would be moving forward. That meeting led to further speculation about the immediate viability of the program.

“Abraxas was up front in terms of what (players and support) they were able to provide,” Stewart said. “They are concerned, and we are too, with the numbers they are seeing for that football team right now.”

“We’ve been so dependent on Abraxas to feed our program that it’s ultimately deterred some local kids from coming out,” Korbar said.

The low numbers have already impacted the team’s preparation as Korbar decided to opt-out of the 7-on-7 summer competitions hosted at War Memorial Field.

Korbar posted to Facebook June 5 that Sheffield would not participate in 7-on-7 competition “at this time as I don’t know what (players) we have.”

“I don’t have a quarterback with any reps at the varsity level,” Korbar said following the June 26 meeting. “With the offense I want to run, it’s not ideal to do 7-on-7 at this time.”

According to one source, who spoke to the Times Observer on the condition of anonymity, Korbar told parents he was pulling out of the 7-on-7 work because he “needs to see what he has to work with.”

The source also said several parents voiced their disapproval of the move and felt a lack of spring practices limited Korbar’s ability to evaluate his potential team.

“My concern right now is what I can do with the kids,” Korbar said. “If we have to go to Warren, I need to prepare the kids for that. If that’s what it has to be, I’d like to get them going as soon as possible.

“Then my other question is what would happen with Abraxas?,” he continued. “I have ties there, I know what that program has been. I don’t want those kids to lose out either.”

The players currently attending offseason workout sessions have confirmed to Korbar that they want to play this season at Sheffield.

Sheffield is also having trouble filling two of its coaching vacancies. Two junior high coach positions had to be posted multiple times, and, as of July 2, are still not officially filled.

“Mark this as my last ditch effort,” Korbar posted to Facebook June 25. “If we don’t get applicants I will have to make the call to shut down junior high before someone above me makes it for me.”

Korbar admitted that post was made to demonstrate the urgency of the situation. Any final decision about the state of the junior high program would have to come from school and district officials.

“I came in with the knowledge and understanding that there are (few) ways this can go,” Korbar said. “We can operate as-is with the (Abraxas) co-op, the program can operate on its own, we’re going to combine and consolidate or the program dies as a whole.

“I need people to realize that if we don’t save it, it’s going to be gone,” he added. “And it’s going to be real tough to get it back.”

When the WCSD discussed the status of Youngsville football following the 2016 season, which saw the Eagles forfeit two games and play another with only 15 players, administrators and district officials said they ideally want 50 players on each football roster. The 20-30 players Sheffield is regularly fielding more closely aligns with numbers the district prefers for cross country or soccer teams.

The primary need for more players is safety. With less physical sports, the chance for severe injury decreases. In football, especially with recent emphasis on concussion issues, fewer players means increased exposure to hits. The increased playing time, due to having to play offense, defense and special teams, increases the fatigue factor. Fatigue can limit a player’s ability to use correct form when tackling, blocking, etc., thus putting them at greater risk of injury.