One thing you can be sure about in today’s world – not much stays the same.
An examination of the eight-man football participants in Oklahoma certainly would fit this description as the schools playing the eight-man brand of high school football has increased and continues to change.
It is no secret the population of small towns in Oklahoma is in great decline and that has a direct impact on the schools in those communities.
Sports in the small schools are experiencing a decline between two factors – declining population and declining participation – the impact is felt in those schools. The sport it has impacted the most is high school football.
A number of schools – both eight-man and 11-man – did not finish the 2018 season because of lack of participation and injuries.
Before 1955 there were no schools in Oklahoma playing eight-man football. A few schools played six-man in the years prior to this time. But, a number of schools in the panhandle and northwest Oklahoma began playing the eight-man game in the mid-50’s.
Eight-man football remained in that geographic area until the mid-70’s when schools in the northeast, central and southwest parts of Oklahoma began to play eight-man football.
As recent as 2007 eight-man football was limited to 72 schools, but that number has risen to 80. Look for that number to be increased in the near future.
Changes are routinely made to the eight-man classes as schools drop from 11-man to eight-man and other schools have been forced to drop the sport. A few of the schools that played eight-man football are no longer in existence.
It would seem some of the most dramatic change to the eight-man game has occurred in the past year or two.
At least two schools – Bokoshe and Copan – have dropped football after going 1-9 and 0-9, respectively in the 2017 season. But, the biggest change has come in the number of schools that are dropping to the eight-man grid version from the 11-man game.
And, what is amazing is some of those schools have been traditional powers in Class A football through the years including just a few years ago.
Hollis, who is playing an independent eight-man schedule this season, won the Class A state title in 2013 and won 10 games or more for at least four seasons from 2013 to 2016. The Tigers will play three 11-man games this season as the 2019 season will serve as a transition to eight-man football.
Velma-Alma and Okeene are two more traditional powers in Class A over the past two or three decades and both are moving to eight-man football and will play an independent schedule for this season.
Quinton, located in eastern Oklahoma, and Wellston and Beaver are three additional schools that are making the move to eight-man football. Quinton and Wellston both have a pretty large average daily membership, but were approved by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association to move to eight-man football.
All of those schools will be assigned to an eight-man district for the 2020 season.
Temple and Balko are two eight-man schools that did not complete their schedules last year. Temple played two or three games last season and finished one of those games with only seven players. Balko played five games before being forced to forfeit the remainder of the schedule. Welch also had a difficult year putting a team on the field in 2018.
Temple will likely be able to compete this season, but Balko has formed a co-op with Forgan giving kids from Forgan the chance to compete in football for the first time since the 2012 season when the Bulldogs played for a state title.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, over 10 schools that played football no longer play the sport. This includes some former Ryan opponents such as Duke, Cement and Gracemont.
Waurika is part of a significant number of schools that moved from 11-man to eight-man football within the past 10 years. Waurika began eight-man play in 2012 and since that time nearby schools, Empire and Wilson, have joined the eight-man ranks.
Not all schools are experiencing decline. In fact a few of the schools that have played eight-man football most recently may be forced to move to 11-man football when the final average daily membership numbers are released in September and new football district assignments are revealed in January.
Central High and Caddo, both teams on the schedule for this year for Waurika and Ryan, may be two of those schools along with Ryan’s 2018 playoff opponent, Burns Flat-Dill City.
Waurika’s average daily membership has increased to 107.42, but that number should put the Eagles in the middle of the eight-man schools that will make up Class B.
Ryan has seen its average daily membership drop to 82.47 and it is probable the Cowboys will move to Class C for the 2020-2021 seasons.
It is possible that three-time Class C defending champion Tipton may move up to Class B.
Some of the possible district foes for 2020 and 2021 for Waurika may be Wilson, Empire, Velma-Alma, Bray-Doyle. The remaining member of the district could be Tipton (if they move to Class B), Alex or Bray-Doyle. Waurika will have five schools in the new district besides the Eagles.
Ryan will be looking at some familiar foes if they make the move to Class C. Possibilities include Fox, Thackerville, Paoli, Maysville, Mountain View-Gotebo, Temple, Grandfield and Corn Bible Academy. Ryan will likely have seven other schools in its district.
Of course none of this is official until the final numbers are posted in September, but the eight-man game will likely continue to grow as more and more schools in rural parts of the state continue to decline.
The 2019 season is slated to get underway in just a few weeks with preseason practices, scrimmages and the regular season slate of games. Ryan will travel to Velma-Alma in the season opener on August 30 while Waurika will begin the season a week later with a home game against Temple.