By KELLEN STEPLER
Southern Fulton students will get a chance to participate in interscholastic football beginning next school year.
The Southern Fulton and Everett school boards unanimously approved an action Monday night for the two schools to co-op in junior high, junior varsity and varsity football for the 2020-21 school year. The decision expects to be made official when the PIAA approves the action in July.
“Quite a few kids play youth football, like in Hancock or Berkeley Springs, but once they get to junior high there’s no where to play,” said Kent Hendershot, Southern Fulton’s athletic director.
Everett and Southern Fulton participate in a co-op for wrestling, and Hendershot approached Everett AD Chris McCahan in the fall with the idea.
“We provide a sport that Southern Fulton doesn’t have,” McCahan said. “With the co-op, Southern Fulton students will participate in football as an Everett student-athlete.”
So, SF football players are still Southern Fulton students, and will take classes at there, but will be represented as Everett athletes. Games and practices will be held in Everett, the team will still play in the Inter-County Conference and current Everett coach, Dave Lightner, will coach the squad.
Previously, Southern Fulton had a co-op in football with McConnellsburg and James Buchanan in the 1990s, but that ended in 2009.
In the fall, Southern Fulton offers only soccer and cross country for male athletes.
“This will give students another creative, athletic opportunity,” Hendershot said. “We have a handful of very good athletes that can make an impact on any team.”
Hendershot estimates that about 12-15 SF athletes in grades 7-11 will probably join the team.
“The big thing is transportation – it’s a 20-mile drive to Everett,” Hendershot said. “It will be up to the kids and parents to make that happen.”
Lightner said that currently, Everett’s numbers for football are in the mid-to-low 30s.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity (to do a co-op),” Lightner said. “A lot of District 5 schools (Shade, Berlin, Meyersdale) do co-ops and are successful.”
Lightner’s goal is to get about 10-20 SF players in grades 7-11, but notes the difficulty of recruiting in the era of COVID-19, and that it will take a couple of seasons to get the numbers up.
“Getting numbers up is the goal, and boosting football in our area,” Lightner said. “The more people we have playing football, the better off we will be.”
The second-year head coach also notes the challenge of getting Everett players accustomed to the incoming SF athletes.
“We try to have a family atmosphere in our locker room, and will try to get the kids open to change,” Lightner said.
Ultimately, McCahan said that the co-op will benefit both schools.
“We’re excited to partner with Southern Fulton, and expose more kids to football,” he said. “It will provide a new opportunity for kids to do things and it’s an easy way to open kids up to more opportunities.”