Low numbers will prevent St. John’s Prep from fielding a football team this fall, though activities director Bryan Backes said he still hopes to work out a cooperative agreement with another school to provide the Johnnies’ remaining players with an opportunity to compete this season.
“It’s not a decision we wanted to make, but it was obvious that it was a move we needed to make,” Backes said.
“We had 14 guys come to an organizational meeting at the end of the school year last spring. We spent the month of June trying to see where we were at, and if we could get more students interested.
“Ultimately, we just decided that we weren’t at a point where we’d have enough players to make up a team.”
Backes said the school — which was forced to drop the sport at the varsity level in 1995 and ’96 as well — has informed the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association of its decision.
“We let the conference know that we won’t have a team in 2010, and now we’re working on trying to find a co-sponsorship with another school,” Backes said.
“The Minnesota State High School League requires that everything be in place for that type of arrangement by the first day of practice. So we’re hopeful that we can still get something worked out that will give our guys the chance to play.”
Backes said even if a cooperative arrangement cannot be worked out this season, the school will attempt to get something arranged for 2011, though he did not rule out St. John’s Prep once again fielding its own team if numbers increased.
“There are just a lot of unknowns at this point,” Backes said. “But going forward, it seems like the most stability we could have would come as a co-op.”
Added Backes: “It’s impossible to foresee the future. If we have 25 kids that are able to play, we’d entertain fielding a team the way we have in the past. But the reality may be more along the lines of a co-op.”
Backes said the Johnnies had 24 players on the roster last season, but eight seniors graduated, one player transferred and three more potential players will be studying abroad this fall.
“We held out as long as we could and tried every option we could think of to make it work, but ultimately, we realized we just weren’t going to be able to continue on our own,” said Backes, who himself coached football at the school from 1997-2005.
Bob Ellenbecker, who coached the team from 2006 through last season and was an assistant to Backes before that, said numbers have always been an issue in the program.
“We’ve always kind of been on the cusp,” Ellenbecker said. “It’s always been a question every year if we’d have enough guys.
“But it’s too bad, because if you’d have asked me a couple of years ago, I’d have said things were looking pretty optimistic. We had a pile of guys at the middle school level playing football. But a lot of those guys, for one reason or another, when they were done with eighth grade, didn’t come back.”
Ellenbecker said he, too, is hopeful a cooperative arrangement can be worked out.
“That would be huge,” said Ellenbecker, who remains on staff as a teacher at the school. “We have about half a dozen guys who really want to play and I feel bad for them. We have another half-dozen for whom it won’t be such a big deal. They’ll play soccer or do something else.
“But for the guys who really want to play football, I hope something works out.”