WHITTEMORE – One of the most storied 11-man football teams in Northeast Michigan is about to look vastly different. Whittemore-Prescott announced Thursday morning that it has officially declared its program has shifted to 8-man football, effective immediately.
“Due to low numbers and player safety, switching to 8-man was the only option for us, I am working on a schedule as we speak,” W-P Athletic Director Anne Mervyn said. “I have games scheduled with Mio and Vestaburg and waiting to hear back on a couple others. This is a permanent switch, next year we will be on the North Star League 8-man schedule which will be exciting.”
Mervyn added that she has confirmed games on Sept. 25 at home against Mio and Oct. 9 at Vestaburg. She is also hopeful of working out details on a Sept. 18 or Sept. 19 contest with Maple Valley.
The Cardinals are expected to be permitted to participate in the 8-man post-season, as their enrollment sits under the cutoff.
W-P head coach Tommy Atkinson, who is in his third year with the program, felt that this was the only option for the program.
“When we showed up to practice on the first day since the reboot (Tuesday, Sept. 8) we only had 14 kids and three of them were freshmen who aren’t ready to play varsity,” he said. “After practice that day we had a serious conversation about our viability as an 11-man program.”
Atkinson said he at first was hesitant to the switch only because he wasn’t sure the MHSAA would allow the change to 8-man this close to the season.
“It didn’t hurt to check and Anne reached out to the MSHAA and they said that during these difficult times and the special circumstances they would permit us to find a schedule,” he said.
The coach feels he can take a bit of a deep breath because he knows his kids will be able to line-up for football games, instead of looking at a cancelled season.
“The biggest reason behind all of this is the thought of taking away the kids seasons, some of them who have been playing for three years is just something that didn’t sit well with me,” Atkinson said. “That has been on my mind for weeks now, so this is the best thing for us. It isn’t what we were intending on doing, we didn’t plan for this at the start of practice this week but we think this is what gives our kids the best opportunity to experience football.
“It is my job for the kids to make sure they are safe and have a good experience. I am thankful that the MHSAA is allowing us to put together an 8-man schedule.”
On the other hand, Atkinson might want to stock up on some strong coffee as he prepares for a crash course in the 8-man game.
“I have watched a handful of 8-man games but I am going to be learning on the fly as are the other coaches and the kids,” he said. “As a coach it is kind of exciting for me. Last night I read articles and watched 8-man games. I’m trying to keep a couple steps ahead of the kids. I am looking forward to the challenge and my kids are too.”
As the Cardinals work out their schedule, Atkinson will work to have his team ready, for what is sure to be a unique season in multiple ways.
“This is what is best for the program and when we discussed this with the kids there was a lot of excitement from them,” he said. “I’ll be honest, I never saw myself as the person to take this path and I do love the 11-man game and I’ve spent many many hours learning the 11-man game but at this point it is what is best for the kids. There are so many unknowns right now I was not going to risk them not being able to play, that’s where I had to make that tough choice.
“We have a problem with declining enrollment at W-P and that is not going to change anytime soon,” he added. “I hope that we can have a full season for our kids, that’s obviously ideal but as of today (Thursday) we are going out to practice as an 8-man team and we’ll be ready to go.”