The number of high schools turning to eight-man football keeps growing in the Stateline. The Polo Marcos are the latest.
The Marcos will make the switch starting in 2019 pulling out of the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference the state’s premier conference for small-school high school football.
Polo continues a growing trend among small schools that are struggling to have enough players to be competitive at 11-man football. Rockford Christian Life and Alden-Hebron are other Northern Illinois schools that have already made the switch.
Polo head coach Jeff Bumsted said in a phone interview with Eyewitness News Wednesday that this move is the way Polo needs to go.
“Our numbers are declining. Not in great amounts but enough that we don’t feel we can be competitive playing freshman on the varsity level in the conference that we play in.”
Last fall Polo had only 14-15 players on its freshman-sophomore team which doesn’t bode well for the varsity in upcoming seasons.
Other small schools have opted to Coop to continue playing 11-man football. Pecatonica and Durand of the NUIC are the most recent examples of doing that, but Bumsted said Cooping isn’t for Polo.
“Nope we’re not in favor of Cooping simply because a lot of times when you Coop you lose your identity. You lose half of your home games. There’s all kinds of nightmares with a Coop situation that we wanted to be the Polo Marcos and this is one way that we can be the Polo Marcos.”
So what has been the general reaction to the switch by Polo’s players and by the community?
“That’s a good question,” says Bumsted. “Before we even started this I took a survey of all the players from last season’s team. The majority of our athletes said they would not play in a Coop. They would rather stay Polo and play eight-man, so that’s what brought us down this path.”
“Community-wise in the community of course there’s going to be people that want to go (to 8-man) and people that don’t want to you to go, but a lot of the people that have young kids coming up and kids in our program right now understand the situation we’re going through, and they just want their kids to play football and be safe playing football and that’s part of it.”
Bumsted will remain Polo’s head coach through and after the transition. The Marcos won five games last fall despite their declining numbers. Just three seasons ago in 2015 they reached the state quarterfinals in class 1A