In 2024, Jones Senior will transition from playing 11-man football to 8-man football. The district is hopeful that this change will only be temporary.

In 2024, Jones Senior will transition from playing 11-man football to 8-man football. The district is hopeful that this change will only be temporary.

Jones Senior High School will be one of the few schools in the N.C. High School Athletic Association to switch from 11-man to 8-man football starting this autumn.

On Monday, the Jones County Board of Education voted 3-2 in favor of a proposal presented by Chris Wagner, the athletic director at Jones Senior. This decision will permit the school to have an 8-man football team starting this fall. The school district believes that this change will only be temporary.

Wagner shared with the school board, “In my youth, I was taught to always offer a solution when presenting a problem. Merely presenting the problem without a solution is not productive. While I have heard criticisms from the public about what we should not do, they have not offered any solutions. I am here today to propose a solution that I believe will address the problem at hand.”

Wagner reported that Jones Senior had a total of 31 players at the beginning of the 2023 football season, but by the end of the season, the number had decreased to 19. Out of the 12 players who did not complete the season, all had sustained injuries. Wagner is now concerned about the safety of continuing at the 11-man level.

According to Wagner, it is not necessary to have less than 30-35 children on the field. If there are only 24 children, it would result in a 11-on-11 game, but half of them may not have any prior experience playing on a team. This would mean instructing them to play in a specific position, such as defensive end, without fully understanding what is expected of them.

Last autumn, Jones Senior had a record of 0-10 and has not had a winning season since their 10-5 performance in 2011. This season also saw them as the runners-up in the NCHSAA 1A state championship game.

Jones Senior has faced issues with football participation in the past. During the 2019 season, the Trojans opted to end their season early after a winless record of 0-6 due to a shortage of players. Additionally, they had to reschedule a game due to a high number of injured players who were unable to play.

Wagner conducted a survey among students in 8th to 11th grade to assess their interest in participating in 8-man football. According to him, 28 students expressed their willingness to play.

Wagner recalled one of them stating, “Football is football.”

Out of the group of 28 individuals, approximately 20 have prior experience in playing football. The majority of interest is coming from students currently in their 11th year of school. There are also two female students who have shown interest in participating in 8-man football.

According to Wagner, we are still quite young. I believe this is an important safety concern and we should consider the possibility of achieving success and eventually returning to 11-man football in the future. Currently, I do not think we can achieve success as an 11-man football program. This seems to be the best course of action for us.

Initially, the school board’s schedule included 8-man football as a topic for discussion. However, following a lengthy conversation, a proposal was put forth to modify the schedule and authorize the request to transition Jones Senior from 11-man to 8-man football.

“We’re approaching a crucial point. We’ve already established a schedule for 11-man football next year, but we need to make a decision soon so that other teams can fill our spot. Additionally, 8-man teams are beginning to plan their schedules, so if we choose to switch, we need to act quickly to secure our own schedule,” Wagner informed the school board prior to their vote.

A member of the school board emphasized the significance of Jones County’s efforts in developing youth and middle school football programs within the county. Wagner concurred.

According to him, without improving our youth program, there will be no improvement. The successful counties have the best youth programs, and it’s not because we haven’t tried. We are unable to hold practices and form teams in our youth programs until we have support from the residents in those areas, which is currently lacking.

At a board meeting, it was announced that Zach Sellers, the head football coach at Jones Senior High School, has stepped down from his role. Following this, 17 individuals have applied for the position, with 14 expressing interest in coaching 8-man football.

Wagner expressed interest in coaching football at this location.

The school is in the process of forming a committee of four people to conduct candidate interviews.

Jones Senior will not be the initial NCHSAA member school to implement 8-man football in place of 11-man football. Both Columbia and Mattamuskeet have already transitioned to 8-man football and face off against teams from the N.C. Independent Athletic Association who also participate in this version of the sport. While the NCISAA holds a state championship for 8-man football, Jones Senior will not be able to qualify for it. The NCHSAA does not have a state championship for 8-man football for its members.

The National Federation of State High School Associations reported that in the 2022 football season, there were 1,084 schools across the country that provided 8-man football, allowing 23,669 student-athletes to participate. Data on participation for the 2023 season will be made available in late summer or fall of 2024.