Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lake Park defeated...

...Wheaton Warrenville South last weekend, 17-13. Did anyone else notice that?

Last year the Roselle squad only lost to Wheaton South, 14-7, in overtime. But the year before that they were shut out by the Tigers, 28-0.

Lake Park moved over to the DuPage Valley Conference in 2013 and went 3-6. Last year they improved to 5-5. In the previous nine years (which is all I have data for), the Lancers went a mediocre 40-44 in the Upstate Eight Conference, which isn't considered nearly as strong as the DVC.

Suddenly, though, Lake Park is beating a school that appeared in the 7A final as recently as 2011 and won the crown in 2010. Are the Lancers coming up in the world? Or is something else going on?

I'm not sure, but I did have a "text conversation" with a friend of mine yesterday after he read my post which touched on declining numbers in high school football. To refresh your memory, on Friday I spoke with three coaches from a Central Suburban Conference school who said:

...they are just not getting the numbers they need partly due to fear of head trauma. The freshman teams, for example, are really suffering. Maine East and Niles North, I believe they told me, no longer have freshman teams. And schools that used to have an "A" and a "B" team are having difficulty just filling up an "A" team.

It made me wonder if the Central Suburban Conference, which produced the winner of the 8A title, Maine South, in three consecutive years, 2008-10, was actually in decline.

Am I overreacting? My buddy didn't seem to think so. The mighty DVC (which is usually mentioned in the same breath with the Catholic League Blue as the best in the state) "is down to some degree. Naperville North continues to struggle while the Wheaton teams are not as powerful as before."

(He even wondered if Larry McKeon, who coached the Huskies to an 8A crown in 2007 but left after the 2009 season, "almost knew something.")

Neuqua Valley, the school with which my friend is most familiar, "used to have an occasional C game as recently as 2009 and sophomore B games from time to time as well on Saturday mornings. And Neuqua is a massive school."

(The IHSA website lists the Naperville school as the seventh-largest in the state.)

But, "I hear Neuqua freshman numbers are in the 60-70 range, down from a peak of 120 or so."

Why is that? I asked him. "Head trauma big, big reason."

But that's not all. As for Wheaton Warrenville South, their numbers may be down for other reasons.

"My aunt teaches at a middle school in Wheaton that feeds into Wheaton South. She saw this coming a few years ago; said the makeup of students has shifted more to Hispanic and Asian. This is a middle school that's traditionally fed WWS great athletes. She said (head coach) Ron Muhitch actually came to the school to talk to teachers to learn what was going on. He'd noticed fewer and fewer football players from that school."

So is this just a problem in the DVC and the Central Suburban Conference? Or is it a harbinger of things to come?

"Something is going to happen with football, between the profit machine that is the NFL and these colleges spending millions on facilities and numbers being down at the high school levels -- this can't be sustained."

He made an interesting observation about auto racing:

"NASCAR grew quickly and huge in a relatively short period of time in the mid-1990s to early 2000s. But popularity leveled off and growth did too. Tracks kept building more and more stands, which at one point were always filled and TV money flowing into the sport was huge. But a combination of the product on the track and just a general leveling-off of interest and then declining TV ratings -- it all started to deflate. So much so that tracks are now removing as much as 40 percent of their seating capacity. The analogy being if the on-field product falls off because numbers are down, you could see big colleges make similar decisions to downsize (football)."

Is high school football in decline? Is a "tipping point" in the not-too-distant future? In my dad's day boxing and horse racing were two of the biggest sports in America. Do you know any high school kid today that boxes? Me neither. And when was the last time you "went out to the track?"

For an example "closer to home," just look at the Chicago Public League. The Prep Bowl used to draw literally tens of thousands to Soldier Field for the showdown with the Catholic League champion. Nowadays, after Simeon, Phillips and a few others, the pickings get mighty slim mighty fast. Many CPS schools, in fact, have trouble fielding any team at all.

Things do change, you know.