Due to small participation numbers, Manassas Park High School will not field a football program on any level this fall.
On Monday, Manassas Park activities director Dan Forgas informed the Cougars’ opponents and the Virginia High School League of its decision.
The school is also looking for a new head coach after Randy Starks resigned his position Sunday, Forgas said. Starks, a former NFL player, led the Cougars for one season as a first-year head coach. Manassas Park went 0-10 in 2021.
The decision to cancel the season was made after the roster numbers stayed too low to sustain a program.
Since starting July 28, Manassas Park averaged a turnout of 11 players over the seven days it conducted a practice.
The school originally planned to make a decision Aug. 1 on the program’s fate, but then held off until Aug. 5 to see if the numbers improved. They did not. Manassas Park had a turnout-best 17 players on July 28 and Aug. 1 before those totals dropped to 10, 7 and 8 Aug. 3-5. The team did not practice Aug. 2 as the school figured out next steps.
The team only did weightlifting Aug. 5 before calling it day at 8:45 a.m. The team did not practice Monday.
Forgas ideally wanted a minimum of 30 players to have a season.
Out of fairness to the Cougars’ regular-season opponents, Manassas Park needed to make a decision as soon as possible so those opponents could schedule other teams. Forgas said he informed those opponents ahead of time that they may have to find another team.
Manassas Park’s nine opponents have three options before them. They can take a forfeit, play a nine-game schedule with their overall point total divided by nine or reschedule or find a 10th opponent.
Manassas Park dropped down to nine regular-season games in the last month after it opted out of its season-opener at Osbourn Aug. 25 due to the disparity in numbers and experience.
Last season, Osbourn defeated Manassas Park 56-0 before the game was called with three minutes left in the second quarter. In the state’s six-level classification system, Osbourn is in highest division (Class 6). Manassas Park is Class 3.
Forgas said the school remains hopeful that football can return in some form for the 2023 season and beyond.
“We’re not ready to throw in the towel yet,” Forgas said. “We want to give this another crack post-COVID and see what happens.”
Following Starks’ resignation, Forgas said Manassas Park will begin searching for a new head coach with the plan to hire someone who has experience dealing with programs that struggle with numbers. Forgas said one positive under the circumstances is that Manassas Park will have time to find a suitable candidate.
“That’s the nice part to get someone who knows the kids,” Forgas said.
While Manassas Park seeks Starks’ replacement, Herman Carter, a long-time coach at Manassas Park, and Kyle Meyer, who teaches at Manassas Park Middle School, will run workouts for those kids still interested in football.
Forgas said the school would consider competing in eight-man football as a member of the Virginia Independent Schools Football League. There are two public schools (Rappahannock and Chincoteague) playing in the VISFL this fall.
“We’re leaving open every option possible,” Forgas said.
Manassas Park could have used eighth graders to bolster the high school roster. But Forgas was uncomfortable doing that. After not having a middle school team for years, the Cougars have one now and Forgas wanted to keep the middle school program intact as a way pipeline to the high school.
Manassas Park was once a power in football, highlighted by winning the 2004 Group A Division 2 state title with a 14-0 record. But the Cougars have faced an uphill battle for years.
While the school’s enrollment remains steady at around 1,100 students, changing demographics have played the biggest role in declining interest for football.
With a student population that is mostly Hispanic, American football is less a draw than soccer. In addition, students have other responsibilities whether that’s working or taking care of siblings at home.
Other factors that have contributed to the declining interest, include safety concerns due to concussions, transferring and the residue effect left over from the pandemic.
The Cougars did not have a varsity football team in 2018, but with between 20 and 25 players were able to have a junior varsity season based on having enough players to compete at that level. Manassas Park’s decision to cancel the varsity season marked the first time a Prince William County area high school had cancelled a full varsity football season since the first local prep football program began at Osbourn in 1939.
But this season, Manassas Park lacked enough bodies in general to support any football team.
In 2019, the Cougars returned to varsity competition and played an independent schedule against similar sized opponents, including five private schools. Manassas Park finished 5-4, its first winning record since 2012.
During the pandemic-shortened season that was pushed to the spring of 2021, Manassas Park returned to district play and went 1-6. But injuries took their toll as opponents outscored the Cougars 140-21 over the final four games. Manassas Park had to forfeit its regular-season finale against Brentsville due to a lack of healthy players.
The pandemic hurt turnout even more. Kids were unable to play due to COVID-19 concerns or they needed to help out in the household by working after school. When injuries occurred, Manassas Park’s numbers dwindled to the point that the school did not have enough players to field a junior varsity team.
In the fall of 2021 under Starks, Manassas Park’s varsity was outscored 553-7 in going winless. The Cougars did not have a junior varsity team.
Manassas Park last reached the postseason in 2012 and have gone 12-64 overall over the last eight seasons.