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When the Friday night lights return in August, the Necedah Cardinals will be without a varsity football team.

The decision was made last fall by school administrators, with low turnout among upperclassmen and injury concerns cited as the major factors behind it. According to Necedah athletic director Cora Dillin, school officials and the athletic training staff were concerned a varsity team with a roster heavy on underclassmen could pose player safety risks.

“Last year we graduated 10 seniors. I think we had one or two juniors on the team, seven or eight sophomores and five or six freshmen,” Dillin said. “We haven’t had a JV team in a few years due to the lower numbers, and injuries kind of play into that. So after talking with our athletic trainer, she had some concerns with the number of injuries we had last year.”

Before the final decision was made, Dillin and the athletic department held a meeting with parents to decide what course of action they would take.

“Of those that were there (at the parents’ meeting), talking about the graduating 10 seniors, we all felt this was the right thing to do, ultimately, because of the safety of the kids,” Dillin said.

Necedah’s situation will present it with a unique set of challenges. For instance, junior varsity teams typically don’t use seniors unless agreed upon by both schools. So if the few juniors who went out for football last year come back to play during their senior season in the fall, whether or not they’re able to play could be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“If those same juniors come out, we might have a couple seniors,” Dillin said. “And it’ll be a team-by-team whether they allow our seniors to play.”

Adding to the unique situation is the fact that the Cardinals, who went 1-8 last season, will feature a new head coach this fall. Jim Beaver stepped down from the position this past spring, with Chris Rice tabbed as Necedah’s next head football coach.

Prior to accepting a job in the district as a physical education teacher, Rice served as the girls’ head basketball coach and taught at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena, Wisconsin for the last seven years, and served as the offensive coordinator for the Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School football team for the past four years. He is the son of long-time former Ithaca head football coach Dan Rice, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.

When he accepted the position as Necedah’s head football coach, he knew there would be no varsity squad during his first season at the helm. Nevertheless, he’s looking forward to challenges it brings.

“I understood that there numbers were a little low and that they were trying to rebuild,” Rice said. “My dad’s a Hall of Fame coach, so (coaching) is something I’ve always been around. I just enjoy the aspect of seeing the kids get better day in and day out, and just seeing the little improvements that there are.

But despite the fact that the Cardinals will only play junior varsity football this fall, this will not be a long-term plan. Once the 2019 season rolls around, Necedah varsity football will be back in action.

“We let everyone know this is going to be a one-year deal,” Dillin said. “Bottom line is we’re doing this for one year to start rebuilding, working on the skill development and technique and getting that number of kids ready for a varsity level.”