The Bret Harte varsity football team was reduced to 13 players at the start of last week with no game scheduled, prompting coach Casey Kester to wonder if he’d have to cancel games.

There are a couple of programs in danger of cancelling games, and one school, Florin High School in Sacramento, has had to do so, said Will DeBoard, assistant commissioner with the Lodi-based California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section.

“Their numbers are pretty low,” DeBoard said in a phone interview. “We have a lot of schools in the low 20s and high teens, and that’s not ideal.”

Bret Harte had 16 players during the team’s first game — a 49-7 loss to Orestimba — but three players were subsequently caught vaping and put on three weeks of probation.

They’re expected to return after the Sept. 13 home game against El Dorado, Kester said. That leaves the Bullfrogs with multiple offensive and defensive positions to fill, with new players who have just been cleared to practice.

Their next game is scheduled at 11 a.m. Sept. 7 at Delta Charter in Tracy.

Kester said he believes the minimum number he needs to field a team for 11-on-11 high school varsity tackle football is 16 or 17 players.

“I haven’t been in this situation before so I don’t have a set number,” Kester said. “It’s a conversation we don’t want to have because we could never see being down at that number. With numbers like that your depth chart is blown out of the water and you end up trying to substitute with players who have no experience in practice or game time at a new position.”

Asked why there’s less interest in football, Kester said he thinks it’s because a lot more kids are working. He’s talked to students and former players, and he says they aren’t shucking burgers at McDonald’s, they’re grinding castings at the foundry, they’re clearing brush for eight hours a day, they ranching sunrise to sunset, and they can’t get to practice.

“These days there are a lot more things to do than football,” he said. He fears some teams are so low on players in the Sac-Joaquin Section that they may lose their varsity program.

DeBoard said the ideal number of players is to be at least 20.

“We have schools so small that every kid plays both ways,” he said.

DeBaord said in his 11 years with the Sac-Joaquin Section he’s seen some programs drop varsity football for a season, or fail to compete a season, but they all reinstated their programs the following year.

“Getting to the point of actually dropping varsity football, things are getting dire,” DeBoard said. “But numbers are down across the section.”

There are about 170 high school football programs in the section, and overall there were 12,458 football players in 2017, and 12,059 in 2018, so the section had 399 fewer players last year than the year before, DeBoard said. Stats for this year are not yet available.

Asked why numbers are down, DeBoard said, “It takes a lot of effort to play and it’s a very tough sport and it’s a very violent sport. Over the past few years there’s been a lot more talk about concussions and potential for head injuries and some parents don’t want their kids to play football. It’s too bad because it’s a great sport. Hopefully somewhere down the road someone a lot smarter than me will figure out how to make the sport even more safe.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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