Low numbers force Riverdale to suspend varsity football for 2022 |  High School Football - QCVarsity.com

Low numbers force Riverdale to suspend varsity football for 2022 | High School Football – QCVarsity.com

PORT BYRON — A numbers crunch has hit several area football programs hard in recent years.

In addition to the growing number of schools going from 11- to 8-player football—including Lincoln Trail Conference members Galva and Ridgewood—West Carroll was unable to field a varsity team last fall because of low numbers.

Now, the latest victim numbers are Riverdale High School.

With only seven players from their junior and senior classes, and to ensure the safety of their younger athletes, the Rams will not field a varsity squad this fall.

For head coach and athletic director Guy Dierikx, himself a former Riverdale gridiron standout who played a leading role on the Rams’ 2000 and ’01 IHSA playoff qualifiers, the decision did not come lightly.

“Ultimately, we knew our back was against the wall a bit,” the 2004 Riverdale graduate said. “We’d made a bunch of calls, working on ways to recruit kids walking in our halls, trying different options to keep the program viable this fall.

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“We had our camp this week, and it became more and more evident with seven kids at our junior and senior levels, we could not safely and competitively put a team out there this fall.”

As recently as 2019, Riverdale came close to returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011. A pair of late-season losses, including a 14-7 setback to perennial power Sterling Newman, resulted in a 4-5 finish.

The Rams were set to begin Dierikx’s seventh year at the helm by opening at home on Aug. 26 against Bureau Valley. He is feeling the loss of varsity football on a personal level.

“It’s multiple levels for me,” he said. “I feel bad as a proud alumnus and a person who’s been a part of this program for a long time as a player and a coach. I feel bad for the other alumni and the kids, not just in football, but the band, the cheerleading squad, the people who show up on Friday nights.

“It’s definitely been a shock to a lot of people. Not just one person or several people, but the whole community. We’ve had a lot of people call to communicate support for us as well as frustration.”

The decision to shelve the varsity program for this fall was made Wednesday, after which Dierikx, along with Riverdale principal Keith Stewart and superintendent Josh Temple, met with parents.

“We told them what we were going through, and (Stewart and Temple) were there to help answer questions on the direction we’ll be going in the near future,” Dierikx said. “We had talked Wednesday morning, and that’s when we made the decision.

“It’s both for the safety and security of our kids and for the viability of the program in the future.”

Just like West Carroll did last season, the Rams will field a junior varsity team this fall. Along with five seniors and two juniors, Dierikx estimates the number of freshmen and sophomores being in the low-to-mid 20s and also noted solid numbers in the Junior Rams feeder program.

Right now, he is working with other coaches around the Three Rivers Conference to put together a JV schedule, and he hopes that it will lead to a successful return of varsity football in 2023.

“We’ve got a good group of coaches in our conference,” Dierikx said. “We’ve got ongoing conversations and have had other head coaches reach out because they still want to keep our JV games. We may not have a varsity team, but this will give the kids the ability to still have competitions.

“It’ll be an opportunity for our seniors to compete in what they’ve dedicated themselves to for the last eight years.”

While Dierikx is looking toward the future, he admits that the hope of the varsity program coming back strong in a year’s time is small consolation for his senior quintet.

“I definitely think it’s everybody’s hope to continue with it and pick up where we left off, and we’re going to continue to develop the program and build for the future,” he said, “but that still doesn’t make it any easier for our seniors this year.”

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