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Renville County West starters listen to head coach Ryan Hebrink before the start of their Little Sioux Conference football game Friday against MACCRAY at Maynard. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt

RCW decides to shut down varsity football

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With only two seniors among 22 players on the varsity and 10 players who are new to football this season, Renville County West administrators have decided to play one more game and then forfeit the remainder of the varsity schedule.

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"We need to think about the kids," said RCW athletic director Dale Negen. "We've got a lot of kids new to the sport who are still learning. We got a couple of kids hurt last week against Canby and we just can't have that."

Negen and head coach Ryan Hebrink discussed the possibility of disbanding the varsity and playing a junior varsity schedule after the first game of the season when the Jaguars were routed 72-0 by Dawson-Boyd. The following week, RCW lost big again, this time 68-0 to Canby.

Negen met with athletic directors from football teams involved in the Little Sioux Conference, where RCW plays. They agreed to help the Jaguars in any way they could.

"They've been really good about it," said Negen. "I can't say enough about how the teams we are scheduled to play are willing to cooperate with us."

RCW dropped to 0-3 last week following a 49-8 loss to MACCRAY. Prior to the game, MACCRAY coach Mike Dammann, also the school's athletic director, told Negen and Hebrink he would play reserves early in the game and he was true to his word. After the Wolverines scored 35 points in the first quarter, Dammann substituted often and the Jaguars displayed a competitive fire.

The team will play Fulda on Friday because its homecoming at RCW. The team will then forfeit its remaining four games against Lakeview, Adrian, Minneota and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. Minneota won the Class A state title last fall and Adrian was the runner-up.

"We're hoping those teams we are forfeiting to can play a JV game with us," said Negen.

"We've moved the Adrian game to Thursday (Oct. 7) and will play a JV game. The other teams have the option of taking the forfeit and getting the seven points (for section seeding purposes) or trying to reschedule another varsity game."

Two school districts not on the football schedule have already inquired about playing the Jaguars in JV games in case one of the teams that are on the current schedule decide not to play.

"Going into the season, the coaching staff talked about our situation," said Hebrink. "We wondered if we were capable of playing a varsity schedule, especially in a tough conference like we're in. We decided to give it out best shot and see how it went. You never know what might happen. We didn't want to back away from a challenge."

Because of injuries, Hebrink was forced to play two seventh graders and an eighth grader against Canby.

"After that game, I stepped back and realized I can't do that anymore," said Hebrink. "It was ridiculous. No matter what, I would rather put an offensive lineman in to return a kickoff than to put a seventh grader in. I was lucky they didn't get hurt."

RCW's two seniors will also be allowed to play on the JV team. Seven players are back from last year's 2-7 team, but six of them have limited varsity or JV experience since the team did not field a JV team a year ago.

"We told the seniors they are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution," said Negen. "Ryan did a good job getting kids out for football that hadn't played before. But they are still learning and we need to be competitive in order for them to continue to want to play and learn."

The program will consider going to nine-man, but pairing with another neighboring school district is likely not an option.

"If we paired with someone like MACCRAY (they are joined in cross country), then the team would have to bump up two classes because of enrollment size," Negen explained. "We have to do what we feel is best for the kids. We have several options to consider."

The future isn't bleak at RCW. The seventh- and eighth-grade team has 21 players and Negen and Hebrink both said that there are some good athletes coming up that should help the current team in the upcoming years.

"Every Monday, these kids are back at practice and ready to go," said Hebrink. "How many people would feel like that after getting beat 72-0? That shows the character of these kids."

Winning is the main objective in any sporting event. Some coaches and administrators want to win at all costs and will push their athletes to the brink. But RCW wants to make sure that going out for a sport is fun for the kids, too. And downgrading to a more competitive level should put some fun back on the field.

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