• 52°

Combined team best solution for county football

One great pitcher can make an overmatched baseball or softball team competitive against a superior opponent.

One great player in basketball can give you a chance against an opponent with more size, talent and depth.

It doesn’t work that way in football. It’s a numbers game, as all sports fans have heard hundreds of times.

This reality hit home once again Friday with the news that Harlan County will field a combined football program for all the seventh- and eighth-graders in the county school district next fall.

It was the last step in a process that began with the formation of the county middle school football league in the 1970s. Hall, Loyall, Wallins, Lynch, Benham, Evarts and Cumberland all had teams at one time. Now there is one.

Lynch fielded its last team in the 1970s. Benham closed as a junior high in the early 1990s. Loyall and Wallins combined into a West Harlan team for a few years before combining with Cawood (formerly Hall) into the New Harlan squad that eventually took in all the middle school students that were in the James A. Cawood High School service area. Evarts dropped its program last fall and sent its players to New Harlan. Cumberland, also battling low numbers, will combine with New Harlan next summer into a countywide team under the leadership of coach Eddie Creech and the Harlan County High School football program.

Creech made the announcement on Friday, noting that New Harlan coach Scott Caldwell will coach the team, which will include separate squads for the seventh and eighth grade, as well as a combined team when playing opponents with only one team. Cumberland coach. T.J. Green and former Evarts coach Ryan Sawyers will also be on the coaching staff.

“This was a well-thought-out decision, and we considered every angle,” Creech said. “Considering the roster sizes and participation numbers from the pre-existing programs, the combination of the three was the smart move,”

Creech said most schools had only one middle school team, including Bell County, Knox Central, Wayne County, Whitley County, Corbin, Johnson Central and Belfry.

“A unified seventh-eighth grade team guarantees an increase in roster size, an increase in competition level, an increase in support, an increase in quantity of coaching staff, an increase in preparedness for high school football, an increase in the amount of times they get to play on the HCHS field, an increase in the accountability level for each player, an increase of team building prior to ninth grade and an increase in the knowledge of the HCHS system,” Creech said.

Caldwell has started the process of scheduling for next season. The Bears will play both seventh-grade and eighth-grade doubleheaders and also as a combined team.