Mapleton football program to take hiatus from tackle football

The Sailors — from left, Emily Neece, Mason Flansberg, Jeff Bernhardt, Keevyn Walker and Alex Burnett — were able to get some practice in pads in before deciding to switch to flag football. (courtesy photo)

With no seniors on squad, hopes remain high for 2022

Sept. 16, 2021 — After dealing with a low student athlete turnout, injuries and COVID-19, Mapleton High School has decided to forgo 6-man tackle football and instead attempt to play flag football as a club sport.

Other schools around Oregon are also having issues getting 6-man football teams on the field. Many of those same teams happen to be on Mapleton’s schedule for the 2021 football season. Their planned opponent on Friday, Sept. 17, was to be McKenzie High School in Vida, but they too are facing similar challenges as the Sailors, along with still recovering from the wildfires that ravaged the McKenzie River area last summer.

This was to be the Sailors first season playing 6-man football after many years as an 8-man squad.

The Mapleton coaches hope this delay until 2022 will give the program extra time to prep for the transition to the new rules and strategy that come with the smaller number of players on the field.

“This is obviously not ideal for any type of football, but it is the reality of our situation and at least it will be something for the kids who have put work in this year,” said Mapleton Coach Tucker Ford.  “We luckily do not have any seniors, so the situation is unique in that sense. The players were told that we all need to look forward to the future of program, especially with us just switching over to 6-man. This gives us all, coaches and players, a year to adjust to a new system.”

When the Sailors have been able to practice, the three upperclassmen involved in the program, juniors Jeff Bernhardt, Mason Flansberg and Emily Neece, have been “standout leaders on the field” according to Ford. The team as a whole, because of the unique situation a small school like Mapleton provides, is used to being flexible and up for whatever comes their way.

“The kids honestly received the news very well and all said that no matter what happens, they want to stay committed to the team and the year,” Ford said. “These kids know how to handle this type of situation. This is not the first time in their playing career that a season ended due to low numbers, as each kid went through this in middle school. They ended up using the season to stay conditioned and gain more knowledge of the game.”