Friday, March 13, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> JHS coaches visit North P.

Leader sports editor

With participation numbers in North Pulaski’s football offseason reported to be around 17, Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham and athletic director Jerry Wilson were surprised by the 44 NP students present at Wednesday morning’s meeting to discuss the possibility of playing football at JHS next year.

North Pulaski announced last week it would not field a football team for the 2015-16 school year because of low participation numbers, and that any student wishing to play football would be able to do so at Jacksonville because of a rule that allows students at consolidating districts to participate in extracurricular activities not offered at the school they attend.

Wilson, who is also the running backs coach at JHS, handed out sign-up forms to students at the meeting. Of the 44 present, 26 turned their signed forms in to Jacksonville coaches at the end of the meeting.

“We were shocked by how many were there,” said Hickingbotham. “We told them we were going to feed them lunch and we brought eight pizzas thinking there would be 17 to 20 kids. We had 26 sign up and now we’re going to start the process of checking on eligibility and all that. But it’s exciting to see that much interest in our program.”

The decision to not have a football program at NPHS was controversial from the start, and the number of potential football players at Wednesday’s meeting furthered the controversy. Speculation is there would’ve been more students participating in football offseason, enough even to have a team, if the Pulaski County Special School District had moved faster in replacing resigned head coach Teodis Ingram.

Ingram, however, didn’t officially resign until March 9, though it was known he would resign and seek a position in administration shortly after the football season ended.

PCSSD athletic director Danny Ebbs dismissed the speculation, saying the decision simply boiled down to the numbers.

“I can tell you this, if there would’ve been 45 kids in offseason, there would’ve been a football team at North Pulaski next year,” said Ebbs. “I believe coach Ingram held off his resignation because he wanted there to be an offseason program and something for kids to participate in. But when you only have 17 or so, that’s just not enough, really, for any program, much less one that competes in 5A. We had to make a decision based on the numbers we were working with.

“I feel for the kids and the parents. I’ve been in this for 40 years and I’ve seen this kind of thing come and go many times, and it’s never a pleasant thing. You just have to do what you have to. And if there had been 45 kids in offseason, there would’ve been a program.”

North Pulaski principal Jeff Senn backed up Ebbs’ statements.

“When I met with the kids interested in playing football, back when all this started, there were 24 in that meeting,” said Senn. “Seven of those I knew had already committed to play for Sylvan Hills and gotten that paperwork started. Then when I started looking at other things like academic eligibility and all that, there were a few more that I knew weren’t going to be able to play. Now you’re getting down to around a dozen or so and that’s just not enough.”

Another reason for the high numbers at the meeting might have been the announcement that there would be free pizza.

Senn, in the middle of the meeting, pointed out about a dozen in attendance who had already filled out registration paperwork for next year for Sylvan Hills.

The disparity between the number in attendance and the number who filled out the forms and turned them in to Jacksonville coaches doesn’t concern Hickingbotham.

He also noted that one player who came to speak to him after the meeting, already lived in Jacksonville’s zone.

“I think when it’s all said and done, we’re going to see a few more like that,” Hickingbotham said. “We have 26 that signed up and I’m excited about those 26. We’ve had up to 70 in our offseason so far and that’s weeded down now to the high 50s, low 60s. Kids fall out for different reasons, but we’re still looking at having better numbers here than we’ve had in a long time, and we’re very excited about that.”

Senn told the students that North Pulaski would provide a bus to the Jacksonville field house after school for those wanting to participate in the JHS offseason, but Hickingbotham didn’t know exactly when that would begin.

“We’re hoping we can start getting them over here the first week after spring break,” Hickingbotham said.

Current North Pulaski football coaches who want to will also be available to help out on Jacksonville’s staff. Hickingbotham and defensive coordinator Brian McDermott are currently the only two coaches available for football practice.