Evin Demirel: Should LRSD Cancel Its Worst High School Football Programs


Should High School Football Be Canceled in the Little Rock School District slider


“Change alone is unchanging” – Heraclitus

Visit Evin's Author PageAnother high school football season is in the books, and like usual only six teams have walked away with championships. Most of those left on the outside, though, know the game. They know, for the most part, every program ebbs and flows.

Springdale was a giant in the mid 2000s, but it has only been good – not great – since its school district split.

Bentonville is the bee’s knees now, but it too will likely take a tumble once its talent pool is diluted by a district split in the coming years.

Little Rock Central High repeated as state champion in 2003 and 2004, yet only four years late started a 25-game losing streak. But the Tigers appear to be on their way back. In the opening round of this year’s playoffs, Central upset defending champion Fayetteville on the road. Yes, good players and good coaches come and go. Which means, in the natural scheme of things, every program has ups and downs.

What happens, though, when man-made forces so disrupt the natural order of things that a program stays down and never comes back up?

This increasingly looks like the fate of the worst football programs in the Little Rock School District – in particular Little Rock Hall High and Little Rock Fair High. These were once proud teams. The Warriors won six state titles through 1982. The War Eagles, led by Cedric Cobbs, finished the 1998 season undefeated and state champions after wiping out Cabot 41-0 in the title game.

But in the 21st century these programs have devolved into the Washington Generals of the Arkansas prep football world. Neither has won more than two games in a single season since 2007. They have won a total of three games in the last three seasons. The reasons for the fall and futility are not mysteries. They have a lot to do with money, who has it and how those who have it have increasingly separated themselves from those who don’t. There is a lot of people with a lot of money in northwest Arkansas these days, and they do not skimp when it comes to building their kids the state’s biggest and best sports facilities, or paying the best coaches to strategize with the SMART Boards in them. There may still be more people with more money in central Arkansas but in the last few decades much of their financial support has dispersed to satellite communities and private schools. The talent has followed, with North Little Rock, Cabot, Conway and Pulaski Academy being the most successful recent beneficiaries. Pulaski Academy has produced eight FBS signees since 2008, including the Razorbacks’ freshman All-American Hunter Henry. By contrast, the LRSD hasn’t produced a Razorback signee since 2005, according to a December article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Nobody questions LRSD football fell far behind a statewide arms race. What many are questioning is if there’s any hope it can close the gap. Outside of divine intervention, there’s no immediate reason for hope. All the socioeconomic forces which have caused some of the best coaches and players to leave LRSD schools for greener pastures in suburban schools or private schools appear to only be growing stronger. Johnny Johnson, a former LRSD athletic director, firsthand saw these forces at play during his tenure 2001-2012. “I don’t ever see Little Rock coming back,” he told the Democrat-Gazette’s Robert Yates. “It’s such an uphill battle. To me, they’ve lost so many people that care about it. They’ve made their minds up and moved on, and you can’t re-cultivate that.”

As Johnson knows, the issue isn’t how many months long a head LRSD football coach’s contract is, if his $4,729 stipend should be higher, or even if there are still enough talented players in the district. There are plenty of potential players. In the late 2000s, Stephen Houston was a budding star for Fair but his mother moved him away from Arkansas before his senior season. He became one of the better running backs in the Big Ten. Around the same time, Hall had on campus a 6-7, 270-pound star athlete who would have made a superb lineman. Only problem was, Myles Taylor had no interest in playing football for the Warriors. He instead led Hall to consecutive state titles in basketball.

The biggest problem is lack of community support. On a rainy night in October, there were about 25 fans at War Eagle Stadium to watch their team play Bryant, according to the Democrat-Gazette. And there is no football-oriented booster club at either Fair or Hall. Indeed, Central and to a lesser extent Parkview were the only LRSD programs with such booster clubs entering the season. With such a clear absence of support from parents, local businesses and a network of alumni – the lifeblood of any thriving program – what steps can the LRSD take next? Can widespread community support be summoned when there’s hardly anything on the field to cheer?

This kind of apathy can only be combated by a sense of urgency.  That’s why I propose suspending the varsity football programs at Hall and Fair. This may be the programs’ last shot at capturing the imagination of the people they most need for support.

Limit the suspension to a season. See what happens. You know you’re going to have a lot of disappointed varsity football players and coaches. But you’ll also get a flood ofShould High School Football Be Canceled in the Little Rock School District local and even national news stories about their reactions. For the first time in a long time, the plight of these programs will take center stage, and thousands of Fair and Hall alumni will learn about it. If they are still not moved to action, if they still have no desire to raise funds or pack the stands at the junior varsity games, then they never will – and the programs will officially have no hope.

At that point, it’s worth shutting down the football programs for good. Forget for a moment the legal complications here. I know certain laws make taking a sport out of some LRSD schools but not all of them into a dicey proposition. Instead, look at this as a thought experiment. Consider the benefits springing from cutting football. First of all, Hall and Fair would annually save more than $55,000 total by not having to pay for football coaching stipends, bus travel costs, field maintenance, equipment, hiring security for games, etc. Use that money to help make other sports competitive, start competitive academic teams like Quiz Bowl or pay the highest-performing teachers bonuses. Schools, like plants, can grow stronger through pruning. The Arkansas Delta is one of the most football-crazy areas in the nation, and yet one of its highest-performing schools –  KIPP Delta Collegiate High – has chosen to offer five team sports but not football. This isn’t a coincidence.

In the long run, cutting football at Hall and Fair may save the LRSD far more money than currently can be projected . With the rise in medical evidence linking subconcussive hits with brain injury, football-related risk and liability will be impossible to contain in the coming decades. Insurance premium costs will spike, and many public schools will have to cut football to avoid paying them.

It should be remembered that for many of current Hall and Fair football players, the sport is still fun despite all the losing. But even those players realize their program will never rise above its current state of ineptitude unless more people care. Take it from Fair’s sophomore quarterback JaQuan Smith:  “If we can get enough students and staff members to actually care about us and what we are trying so hard to acomplish maybe just maybe we can get more students and more wins,” he wrote in a Sync blog post. “Maybe just maybe we can be the ones to put Fair back on the map.”

There is no maybe when it comes to the question of what ails LRSD football. Fair and Hall, and to a lesser extent McClellan and Parkview, need a culture change to thrive again. That doesn’t happen without a sense of urgency. Suspending varsity football to impose that may seem irrational, but it makes far more sense than the dream of these cellar dwellers turning things around on their own.

Should the Little Rock School District consider suspending high school football at Fair and Hall?

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Demirel wrote a feature article about the fall of LRSD football in September. He also Tweets.

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