Electronics not a significant factor contributing to dwindling high school football rosters

Saturday, September 14, 2019 | 3:45 PM

Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel recognizes that the modern high school football player is going to spend hours each day looking at a cell phone or tablet. Beitel tries to use that trend to his advantage.

He sends players videos to watch, game plans to study and workout schedules to follow on school-issued iPads.

He also has introduced an incentive program where players can cut back on conditioning after practice if they turn off their phone when the team is together. He has players stack their phones on a table in the locker room before they get dressed and pick them up when they are ready to leave.

“A lot of players like it and won’t have a problem with it,” Beitel said. “I’m not sure my son Nick will be able to do it. It will drive him crazy.”

With player participation in high school football dropping steadily over the past four decades, it’s worth wondering whether the rise of electronic entertainment is contributing to the decline.

Most kids will tell you, however, that video games are really not the problem.

“I know a lot of the kids at my school are just lazy,” said Jake Dixon, a senior at United High School in Armagh, Indiana County. “They don’t want to put the time in. Some are concentrating on one sport.

“Believe me, I’ve encouraged my friends to play, but they won’t come out. They’d rather just concentrate on one sport like basketball.”

That hurts a team like United, which played for the PIAA District 6 Class A title last season. It has only 18 players on the roster this year. The Lions forfeited in Week 2 against Ligonier Valley because of a lack of healthy bodies.

Like Dixon, Greensburg Salem coach Dave Keefer thinks the amount of time and effort required to be a successful football player keeps kids away.

“In football, you practice four or five days and play one game a week,” Keefer said. “In baseball and basketball, there are less practices and more games once the season begins. Football is a hard sport. Video games aren’t the problem.”

Greensburg Salem’s football roster numbers are down this season as more athletes specialize in one sport. Keefer said he knows other coaches at the school encourage athletes to buck that trend.

“If you watch the NFL draft, there are a lot of players that played multiple sports growing up,” Keefer said.

As they search for solutions to increase participation, coaches who don’t have to worry about dwindling rosters are the lucky ones in today’s high school landscape.

“There are a lot of factors for the small rosters,” Beitel said. “I believe loyalty in the coaching position leads to stability in the program. We’re blessed to have a good feeder system in the midgets.”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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