Future of varsity football team in jeopardy as enrollment falls

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Mikaela Rabizadeh opinion editor

AJ Wolken staff writer

After many losing seasons and slowly declining enrollment in the program, the future of the football team looks to be in jeopardy. While the team has had some winning seasons since permits were removed, varsity football has had substantially worse records since the change was made. With 22 members of last year’s 37-man varsity team graduating in June, there will be few upperclassmen in the program, leaving the future of the team uncertain.

Principal Mark Mead is adamant that there will be a varsity football team, and he is going to do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

“I need to give [students] an opportunity to [play football] and keep them safe as much as football allows,” Mead said. “The day I walk home and tell my son Beverly Hills doesn’t have a football team will be a black day in the Mead house. That boy will not be happy at all, and I assume there are a lot of people that feel that way here.”

On the other hand, former head coach Steve Geanakos feels that without an adequate number of players and a strong foundation in the program, it will be difficult to field a varsity team next year.  Due to doubts to the program’s ability to sustain a future, Geanakos decided to step away from his role in the team after eight years of coaching.

“Right now, I’m out of the loop enough that I don’t know what they’re going to do, how they’re going to progress. I feel bad inside, because it’s as if I’m running away from it, but I worked here for basically eight years in the football program, seeing less kids [try out], and less kids interested in [trying out]. That’s a trend that I could not find a way to stop,” Geanakos said.

While the reason for declining enrollment in the program isn’t clear, Geanakos believes that safety concerns with football are a large factor, especially because the majority of the returning players are young and inexperienced.

“In a community like Beverly Hills, where people are very concerned with the safety of their children, and maybe being a little overly safe or cautious, they don’t want them in any kind of situation that might cause them harm,” Geanakos said. “One of the things that a lot of families believe they can create a safe situation for their kids is to stop letting them play football.”

Freshman lineman Ayton Zinati, who has dreamed of being a part of the team since middle school, is discouraged by the rumors that the program may be going under.

“It sucks because [for] all of middle school I was looking to play football and have fun with all of my teammates and so knowing that it’s most likely going away is crazy to me because all these years it was thriving and once I finally have the chance to play, it might be gone.”

The absence of a football team may also affect other groups on campus, including the marching band and pep team. After three years of cheering, varsity cheerleader Alecssa Sanchez hopes that she will still be able to cheer football season her senior year.

“Football season is a really fun season for cheer because you’re on the track, you’re on the sidelines, interacting with the crowd and you also get to watch a football game. It’s a great experience, especially because there’s Homecoming,” Sanchez said. “I think that keeping football at our school would really keep the high school experience alive.”

Even though Beverly’s football program hasn’t been very successful in recent years, ASB president Maia Yosef thinks that simply the presence of a team, successful or not, is important to the Beverly experience.

“It’s always amazing to have a football team. It’s tradition. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the best luck with our record. But I’m glad I got to attend the games and have that experience through our football team,” Yosef said. “School spirit is something that can always improve at Beverly. But I don’t think that [the absence of a football team next year] will help with that.”

While he is disappointed by the decline of the football team, former starting quarterback Jake Wolken, who led the team through the 2015 season feels this is necessary so that the program can start over and create a more solid foundation for a more successful team.

“The program needs to be completely restarted and built from the ground up. We’ve been competing against established programs with a solid line of player development from frosh to JV to varsity, and we just don’t have that at Beverly,” Wolken said. “Football isn’t as fun when you’re overmatched every week, and they started to change our schedule… but we need to move into a lower-tier league. When the culture and competition of the team changes, the players will follow.”

While he is in search of a new coach, Mead thinks that Geanakos brought the passion and competition to the team when he was the coach, and the absence of that energy will be evident next year, regardless of who the new coach ends up being.

“Mr. Geanakos and his team showed great character. And if we are building character, to me, that is more important than wins and losses,” Mead said. “Losing Mr. Geanakos as our football coach is a blow and it does create a situation where we will probably have some significant changes, but I think the world of him and what he’s done.”

Although the future program seems to be uncertain, Wolken is hopeful that the spirit of success that is exhibited with the basketball program can translate to football.

“I really hope they get the program back on its feet soon. Even without a ton of winning, playing football was one of the best parts of high school for all of us on the team,” Wolken said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to bring the ‘Bevball’ basketball culture of winning and fan excitement back to football.”

Note: Early reports have identified Jarrod Bunch, a former fullback at the University of Michigan and for the New York Giants, as the leading candidate for the job. More coverage on that front coming soon.

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