CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Nearly two weeks away from its scheduled season opener, Notre Dame High School has canceled the 2019 football season.
The decision, confirmed by Irish athletic director Steve Petitto, was finalized Wednesday after a recent discussion between Petitto, head coach Scott Werdebaugh, principal Julie Frosch and assistant principal Kelly Light.
“As we started fall camp, our numbers fluctuated between anywhere between 10 and 14, and the four of us met last Friday and decided we needed at least 16 or 17 to make this thing go,” Petitto said. “Some kids showed up without football experience and tried to help a classmate out. That’s a credit to those kids and their parents. But the second week of practice, a couple kids decided maybe this isn’t for me.
“You look at the numbers and safety part of it. Can you really make it through a season with 14 or 15 kids?”
Werdebaugh was hired in June to replace Sam Alvaro, who stepped down after serving as Irish head coach each of the last 17 seasons.
It was well known to both Werdebaugh and the community that the football turnout wasn’t expected to be nearly as high as in years past. This upcoming season will mark the third straight year that Notre Dame, which serves students in grades 7-12, will be without a middle school football team.
“Having no middle school program the last few years eventually catches up with you,” Petitto said.
But Werdebaugh remained hopeful that the Irish would field a team. Last month, he mentioned that he’d been hired when school was out of session and thought pitching the program to students in person could increase the turnout.
“When we hired coach Werdebaugh, we had between eight and 10 kids coming to summer workouts,” Petitto said. “We want to give him a lot of credit through a tough situation.
“It’s tougher with the limited amount of numbers in the entire school. It’s less of a pool to grab from when you’re trying to get kids to play a sport. It’s also no secret with the safety part and concussions. All of that plays into it.”
Petitto said calls have been made to each of ND’s 10 scheduled opponents this season to inform them the school had canceled football.
Nine of the 10 scheduled opponents were in-state Class A schools, including Trinity Christian, which has brought football back. Werdebaugh was the Warriors’ head coach in 2009, before they discontinued the program the next year.
“Everybody knew we were up against it with numbers,” Petitto said. “We came up short. Setbacks are going to happen, but we’ll get through this.”