Why is the football program being reviewed at this time? Athletic Director Kurt Ruch, Coach Dom Gregorio and Head of School Sam Houser had concerns for the safety of our student-athletes this past fall, with the coach letting us know that there is a risk of foreseeable serious injury if the school proceeds with the program as it exists. Injuries resulting from a lack of depth in our roster caused significant challenges for the program this season and raised questions about how our program commitments fit within a changing competitive environment. This prompted a discernment process including senior administrators and the George School Board of Trustees about the future of the program. That process is continuing, and an outcome is expected in January 2023. A decision about the direction of the program must be made in order to give players and their families and our coaching staff adequate time to plan for next year.
I understand that this past season presented difficulties, but it’s one bad season, right? Can’t we just move forward? While this season presented specific challenges, we have seen indications of a changing dynamic for a number of years. These changes are consistent with national trends.
- Over the last 12 years, the country has seen a steady decline in the number of high school football players (Statista).
- National trends also show decreasing enrollment of males in high school sports and increasing specialization in sports at the high school level. George School’s participation trends over the last five years align with these national trends.
- At GS, all programs are reviewed consistently and on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are meeting the needs and interests of our students. The school is also continually researching new programs that may enhance our offerings. In order to meet the needs of current and prospective students and to remain competitive among our peer schools, George School needs to continually adapt and adjust.
Who is making this decision? Safety of our students is paramount, and this past season made it clear that the program could no longer safely continue as it exists. Alternatives for how to proceed with the program have been explored thoroughly by the school administrative team and are being threshed with the George School Board of Trustees. In the discernment process, every effort has been made to consider and represent the interests of the entire community, keeping our students in the forefront.
What alternatives are being considered? Because of the safety issues brought to the administration’s attention this year, continuing the program as it exists today is not an option. Alternatives under consideration are:
- Eliminate football. This decision would require a strategy for adding new boys sport(s) to the athletic program.
- Move to an 8-man football team and league. As national participation in football at the high school level continues to decline, this is an increasingly common alternative for smaller schools (Learn more about 8-man football below). For George School, it means continuing with a competitive football program that has a smaller roster, joining an existing league (with Mercersburg Academy, Perkiomen School and others) that affords our team the opportunity to go to playoffs and championships, and provides a viable path for recruitment to college football.
- Develop a strategy for investing in the program in order to build and maintain a roster with the depth and experience that would enable the program to continue safely. By Coach Dom’s reckoning, and consistent with what we know about the size of rosters for healthy and competitive teams, this option would entail recruiting 14-19 experienced football players into the school next year with a proportionate commitment of recruitment and financial aid resources. This is beyond the scope of what the school is able to do without compromising our ability to recruit athletes for programs, artists, Quakers and high academic achievers.
Why isn’t the whole community being brought into this decision process? George School strives to honor the principles of Quaker decision-making by seeking input from relevant audiences. At the same time, decisions in an organization like a school, even a Quaker school, are ultimately made by administrators and the Board of Trustees. The feedback we are seeking and receiving from families and alumni, as well as from players themselves, will inform the discernment process of the administration and the Board of Trustees around the future of football. The discernment process has been approached:
- with open minds and without holding unshakably to a predetermined position;
- with a commitment to looking for creative solutions, not just a least common denominator or compromise; and
- with a commitment to being engaged in the process, ready to speak their minds and to listen for wisdom, truth, or the most compelling proposal, which may come from anyone present.
Why haven’t alumni been informed about this? This decision must be made in a timely manner in the interest of the current players and families. Therefore, all communications were centered around this group. We understand that this may have been frustrating for those alumni whose George School experience is closely tied to the football program. However, we welcome feedback from members of our community; please use this form to share your thoughts.
Why is this suddenly a problem? While this season presented specific challenges, we have seen indications of a changing dynamic for a number of years. These changes are consistent with national trends. The timeline for this decision is centered around the current players and families, who must plan for next year and in consideration of the admission cycle for the 2023-2024 school year. To allow these members of our community as much time as possible to consider their options, those community members were informed 24 hours after the Board of Trustees meeting that changes to the program were being considered.
When you talk about allocation of resources, what does that mean? Are we actively recruiting athletes? Are we providing athletic scholarships? Are most of our athletes receiving financial aid? The admission office works to attract students and families across all areas of interest; in athletics, individual coaches work in partnership with admission to make decisions about allocating resources in their efforts to attract athletes to their teams. In keeping with our mission, we seek to make a George School education possible regardless of a family’s ability to pay. However, George School has a finite financial aid budget. As responsible stewards of school resources, we must ensure that all decision-making regarding financial aid connects to the school’s strategic plan and is disseminated in a way that responsibly balances all school priorities and programs, including our commitments to academics, athletics, the arts and providing educational opportunity.
Between tuition costs and the school endowment, George School has plenty of resources. How could it possibly not have enough money to support football? It is important to recognize that tuition alone does not cover the cost of a George School education. In addition, our financial aid budget (while quite generous) is finite and must be distributed fairly across all of our accepted, qualifying students. Finally, it is important to understand that the decision about the football program’s future is not dependent on financial resources alone; it must be supported in ways consistent with our values.
What is 8-man football?
- Eight-man football is played throughout the country, with close to thirteen hundred schools currently playing. The sport was started to help schools with smaller enrollments.
- Is it like flag football? No. The rules of eight-man are very similar to eleven-man, just with three fewer players on the field. Other differences can be found in the offensive formations, changes in defensive schemes, and less special team play. Eight-man can be played on a smaller field, but most schools still use the standard 100-yard field.
- Who would we play? In 2018, the Keystone State Football League (KSFL) was started in Pennsylvania. This league has continued to grow and strengthen. George School considered joining the KSFL in 2018, but made the decision to stay with eleven-man. We believe that moving to the KSFL would provide George School a “home” for our football program, which has not been a part of a league in recent years.
- Learn more about the rules of the KSFL.
Doesn’t a move to eight-man signal an end to the program? No. Adopting 8-man football is a way to preserve and strengthen the football program. It offers:
- An opportunity for our athletes to play football in a league with the prospect for playoffs and a championship.
- An opportunity for the school to field a competitive team with a smaller roster than an 11-man team.
- More effective management of health and safety risk.
- Ability to recruit a smaller number of athletes into the program and offering space for walk-ons.
- The opportunity to build and strengthen our football program. A successful 8-man program could in the future be a platform for returning to 11-man football, choosing to eliminate the program would make that possibility far less likely.
Who can I talk to about this? We invite community members to share their thoughts about this decision here. Any input from our community will be reviewed and brought to the Board of Trustees meeting.