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Midway-Minto taking 6-man football route

Low participation numbers put the 2018 high school football season in jeopardy for Midway-Minto. However, the co-op program has found an alternative.

Midway-Minto will play a limited 6-man football schedule this fall. A key step came Tuesday when the North Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors approved the program's request.

"We knew we couldn't field a 9-man team,'' Midway superintendent Roger Abbe said. "If we could make 6-man work, we wanted to continue the co-op.

"We do feel there is interest in football—not enough for a 9-man team, but there is interest. And in small schools, you have to protect your programs. You don't want to see anything go. It was go to 6-man or drop football eventually.''

Abbe said a combination of declining enrollment and declining participation numbers meant change was needed.

Midway-Minto was 1-6 playing 9-man last season. The Mustangs finished the season with 15 players on the roster, five of whom were seniors.

In April, when talk began of dropping out of 9-man, Minto athletic director Shane Robinson said the program was looking at nine students in grades 9-12 who planned to play next fall. Fielding a 9-man team in the foreseeable future seemed unlikely.

"We might get more kids out for 6-man football than we did for 9-man,'' Abbe said. "The physical aspect of the game was difficult for us. We were playing freshmen and sophomores against juniors and seniors. That really hurt us.

"Six-man is more of a speed game than a physical game. There's still blocking and tackling, but it's a lot more running.''

Abbe said Grenora, one of a few teams in western North Dakota that plays 6-man football against Montana opponents, has agreed to scrimmage Midway-Minto this fall and play one sub-varsity game for sure, and possibly two.

"Their coaches said they can help us,'' Abbe said. "It's so new to us. It will be a learning experience. If anybody else is interested, we'll schedule anybody who wants to give (6-man) a try.''

The approval of the NDHSAA board was important, Abbe said, because it guaranteed the program would have the liability insurance provided by the NDHSAA.

"Not having that liability insurance would be pretty scary,'' Abbe said.

Abbe said that, due to declining enrollments and dissolution of co-ops, he's heard of other schools at least mentioning the possibility of playing 6-man. But Matt Fetsch, the executive director of the NDHSAA, said he's heard very little of such talk lately.

"We'll know more in September when our football plan (for the 2019-20 seasons) is finalized,'' Fetsch said. "There are some schools who are no longer in co-ops. Maybe it would be an option for them to try the 6-man route.''

3-class system tabled

The board of directors had a limited discussion Tuesday about a recent proposal for three-class systems in basketball and volleyball.

The matter was turned over to the board's realignment committee. The members of that committee going forward won't be known until after July 1, when board membership turns over.

"We felt it would be best if it was addressed by the new board,'' Fetsch said. "There wasn't much feedback about it from member schools. It was evident that more input is needed from member schools.''