ORANGEBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Two rival high school football teams could be playing on the same side for the upcoming season. The Orangeburg Consolidated School District has requested that North and Hunter-Kinard-Tyler (H-K-T) High Schools combine their football programs.
A final decision will come from the commissioner of the South Carolina High School League.
District leaders say the reason behind the move is dwindling participation on the North High School football team. The school finished this last season with just 13 players.
Typically, high school football teams are able to practice with 11 on offense and another 11 on defense to mimic a real game. Bob Grant is the chief auxiliary services officer for Orangeburg schools. He says a team this small puts the players’ safety at risk.
“A normal football game, most schools have backups or you play offense or defense. You may have a few players that play both. These kids, many of them are having to play offense, defense, and special teams,” said Grant.
“They are out there every minute of every game and we understand the more a student is out there, and if they’re tired, the more they’re at risk of an injury or something happening to them. So, we want to make sure that those kids are in the best position.”
There has also been an issue with North having forfeit several games in the past, punishable by a $1,500 fine from the league.
Grant says North HS students deserve to have a football team they can be proud of.
He says, “It’s really difficult, also, for coaches to maintain the morale of the kids when they know that they’re going into every game behind the eight ball so-to-speak. They haven’t won a game, I think – I believe it’s been five years.”
William McCarroll is a former North High School football player and is now a part of the school’s coaching staff.
“Yes, they lose, but they always fight until the end of the football game, and I think, personally, it’s a bad idea because merging with – H-K-T is our rival and you don’t want to merge with your rival, and if they merge with H-K-T, I feel, personally, that North kids won’t have a fair advantage," McCarroll said.
District leaders say that they already have a coach in mind for the combined teams, someone who’s currently coaching at H-K-T, and has previously coached at North. Grant says this coach connects well with both communities and intends to give every student a fair shot on the team.
This wouldn’t be the first time something like this has been done in the Orangeburg School District. Several years ago, the Branchville High School football team combined with the Edisto High School football team.
Over time, the Branchville community reinvented its own program, which was eventually integrated back into the school system. This past season Branchville’s football team made it to their playoffs.
Grant says this is an example of this process done successfully, and that North High School could one day rebuild their own football program.
There have already been community meetings to notify students and parents of the possible merge between the North and H-K-T football programs.
Addressing one of the big concerns, school officials say both schools will continue to hold their own homecoming games. There will be a game at each school, which means two games for the players.
Although McCarroll says he’s concerned that North students won’t get a fair shot, he also says, “You never know if it’ll work unless you try it.”
It has already been approved for the North and H-K-T marching bands to combine in the upcoming school year. This was because of low participation at H-K-T. So, those students will join the North HS band and together they will play at every football game, assuming the merge between the football programs will be approved.
It’s not clear when we’ll hear a final decision from the S.C. High School Football League.