By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
HOPEWELL TWP. — Chances for more player injuries is the main reason Hopewell Valley school officials don’t want to see the Bulldogs varsity football team moved to a division with bigger schools.
That’s also why the Board of Education has recently formally requested the West Jersey Football League to reevaluate its placement of the Hopewell Valley Central High School football team in the Capitol Division starting in the fall of 2016, and place it in a division with schools of equal group size.
Tripp Becker, athletic director for the Hopewell Valley School District, described the Capitol as “pretty much the highest division” in the league. The Bulldogs have been moved up, he said, because of the team’s success and high winning percentage over the last two seasons in the Patriot Division.
The number of students enrolled at a high school is no longer a chief factor in grouping varsity football teams into divisions, but for Hopewell Valley officials, school size still seems to matter.
With a dwindling student population trending towards below 1,000 “in the very near future,” according to Superintendent Thomas Smith, the Bulldogs team will be facing much larger high schools in the Capitol Division, like Rancocas Valley, which has about 2,000 students; Lenape, with an enrollment of about 1,900, and Trenton Central High School, with about 1,800 students.
Hopewell Valley Central has a population of about 1,250 students.
The larger schools the Bulldogs will be facing, Mr. Becker said, will mean those teams have the opportunity to field more players on their squads. More players mean that fewer of them have to play on both offense and defense.
“Hopewell Valley doesn’t have a ton of kids and a lot of our players play both ways, which increases the chance of them getting tired or hurt, especially when they’re going against opposing guys who are fresh because they have been off (the field) for a series because they only play one way,” the athletic director said. “It’s a concern.”
Mr. Becker said he appealed to the West Jersey Football League to keep the Bulldogs from having to move to a different division, but the appeal was denied.
Before the Hopewell Valley school board passed a resolution on Dec. 14 essentially echoing Mr. Becker’s dissatisfaction with the league, board president Lisa Wolff commented on the issue.
“As I understand it, where we were placed before may have been too easy, but where they placed us now winds up being too competitive,” Ms. Wolff said. “It’s not that we’re afraid to compete. We’re more than happy to play against teams that are at our own level, but I think that they’re placing us so high that they could actually put our students in danger. And that’s the reason why I would like to go on record saying that we disagree with where the West Jersey Football League placed us.”
Superintendent Smith said the league did not take Hopewell Valley’s enrollment trend into consideration.
“Although our football team has been competitive, what we feel is the West Jersey Football League is ignoring the fact that our enrollment is decreasing,” Dr. Smith said. “This is the last year of 300-student class sizes coming into our high school.”
By Frank Mustac, Special Writer