When Craig Morgan helped create the Badger Youth Football program, he and the other founding members had a goal of bringing football to the junior high and high school in the Joseph Badger school district.
With this in mind, Morgan met with Badger school district superintendent Dr. Daniel Bair and other members of the district's administration multiple times in the early going, trying to gauge interest from the top as he and other parents attempted to build interest from the ground.
"I met with them several times before and after we started (the youth program) because we both agreed that football was something that was going to bring this community together, or it was going to tear it apart," said Morgan, a principal at the Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna. "Unfortunately, it's torn it apart in some respects."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Badger’s Nate Priddy, right, rushes toward the end zone as Newton Falls’ Gavin Phares goes for the tackle during a Sept. 28 game.
The school board and the superintendent have decided against offering football as a sport in the school district, creating a chasm between the school and the families whose children wish to play football.
Bair pointed to money as the main issue. He said the school doesn't have the facilities to create a football program, needing to build locker rooms, bleachers and concession space, all of which the school district cannot afford.
He also stated the school district doesn't force its students to contribute to pay-to-play or pay-to-participate fees for extracurricular activities. Also, the school pays for the transportation of any sport-sanctioned group. These could change if Badger were to offer football.
Football isn't the only extracurricular activity to be proposed to the board, with the board facing requests to add wrestling and archery as well.
"Football's quite expensive," Bair said. "To add that at this particular time is not an expense the board and I think our community wants to participate in, and I believe our community was extremely appreciative that we at this time did not try to add football, nor do they want us to expand into any other extracurricular activity.
"Now, very limited, small groups, they have a special interest, but that doesn't mean that because of a small interest group that (the board) would decide to do that."
This causes a problem for the students who wish to play football.
In order to play football after sixth grade, some young kids are leaving Badger, opting to use open enrollment to join other school districts. Out of the 128 kids who played in the Badger Youth Football program, 30 have transferred out, according to Jason Metz, vice president of the program.
A vast majority of these students choose to go to neighboring schools in Brookfield, Mathews and Pymatuning Valley.
That doesn't include siblings who also left, but even so, Morgan calculated the school will lose around $800,000 over a six-year period of state funding from the kids who've enrolled elsewhere. That is assuming the "guaranteed" money from the state of $6,000 per student per year stayed true, and he explained that the school should feel it every couple of years when the state reallocates the money based on enrollment size.
"They basically said they didn't have the money," said Morgan, whose son and daughter transferred to Garfield where he worked for 15 years. "I'm a high school principal - I understand that, but when you look at the dollars and cents about the kids that they've lost and money that they've lost, it hurt them not to start the program.
"The board was not in support of football."
Bair said although the school doesn't promote it, he understands the desire for the kids to play football and explore the use of open enrollment to meet their desires.
"They can certainly open enroll if they choose to (join) neighboring districts that have a program, and we've always encouraged our parents that use that in some way," Bair said. "We've always said we really believe parents need to do whatever is in the best interest of their children, and if that means to do something of that nature, to go ahead and do it."
The problem with that thinking is the parents don't want to send their kids to a school away from the community, said Joe Laverty, current president of Badger Youth Football. They want to keep them at home and don't want to hurt the school.
"A majority of the parents that their kids left, they wanted their kids to stay here," Laverty said. "It's not like they just wanted to go out of Badger and go somewhere else. They tried their hardest, and they wanted their kids to stay here. The opportunity wasn't here for them."
Laverty, along with others, said the loss of students hurts other sports like basketball, baseball and track, as many who left are multi-sport athletes. Also, the students have high grades when they leave Badger.
"Almost every kid that left was an 'A' or 'B' student," he said. "So, you're not losing your stereotypical dumb jock. You're losing very smart young kids. Sooner or later, it's got to hurt the school."
Another key sticking point from the school administration is the lack of students to field a football team, Bair said. He explained that the number of students enrolled at Badger decreased 33 percent in the past decade.
Metz and Laverty disagree, though, pointing to schools within its league, the Northeastern Athletic Conference, that have football. According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association website, Windham (81), Ledgemont (80), Mathews (109) and Chalker (94) have fewer boys enrolled in high school than Badger (119).
Out of the five aforementioned schools, Mathews is the only one to offer both a boys soccer team and football team. The other four only offer one of the two as fall sports for boys at the high school level.
"There are several schools much smaller than ours that have a very productive football team," Metz said. "Ledgemont's a lot smaller school than we have here with our enrollment, and they're a successful school - maybe not year in, year out."
Still, Metz reiterated that people involved with Badger Youth Football don't want to hurt the community - intentionally or unintentionally - and just want to give children the opportunity to represent their community in one of the nation's most popular sports.
"That's not what we started this program for - to put a dent in our own community - because this is our community," Metz said. "We're not trying to hurt anybody, but we would love to see it go into the high school level, give our community something to root for and everything.
"We'd keep our kids here."