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Blackduck appeals to move to 9-man football

Blackduck's Michael Juelson (22) scores on a 34-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Drakes' 35-0 win over Red Lake in October. (American file photo)

BLACKDUCK -- The Blackduck High School football team is appealing to the Minnesota State High School League to let the program move to 9-man football beginning with the 2019 season.

Drakes head coach Daniel Hangaard said the change from 11-man football to the 9-man game would benefit the program. Blackduck fielded a varsity roster of 25 players last fall, which made it difficult to schedule many junior varsity games.

“Just with numbers wise and being able to field a full JV roster. It’s hard to field a program without having a whole lot of JV games,” Hangaard said of the reason for the appeal. “And when we’re playing 11-man and we’ve got -- it’s basically four other guys that need to get on the field compared to a 9-man game. It just kind of suits our needs better with the numbers that we’re having right now.”

Blackduck High School has an enrollment of 151 students for the 2017-18 school year. The enrollment cutoff to compete in 9-man football is 150, but the school is appealing MSHSL to let the team make the shift.

“Right now we’re one kid over the limit for 9-man but in a few years our elementary numbers are going to be lower than that, so we appealed to the state to go 9-man,” Hangaard said.

Hangaard is hoping for between 25-30 players to be on the team for the 2018 season.

Blackduck currently plays Class A football in Section 7. The Drakes finished the 2017 regular season with a 2-6 record, falling 54-8 to East Central in the first round of the Section 7A playoffs.

In addition to the low numbers, injuries are also a concern, especially with so few players available. With Blackduck using so many JV players, the likelihood of injuries increases since those players are oftentimes playing in both JV and varsity games.

“When we have to rely on a lot of freshmen and sophomores to play, typically those are your JV guys,” Hangaard said. “When we’re hoping that they play a lot of varsity minutes, it’s kind of nervous putting them into a JV game.”

The deadline to appeal to MSHSL is Sunday, April 15, and Blackduck has already filed its request. The school could potentially learn of the league’s decision within a couple weeks, Hangaard said. The coach thinks the move would be approved, though the decision is ultimately up to MSHSL.

The Drakes could possibly join other area schools fielding 9-man football teams, including Kelliher/Northome, Clearbrook-Gonvick and Laporte.

Cass Lake-Bena played several seasons in 9-man, including as recently as 2016. The Panthers moved back up to Class A prior to the 2017 season.

Blackduck could end up doing the same if enrollment rises in the coming years.

“If enrollment increases, sure, but right now our elementary numbers are looking kind of small so it’s not real likely,” Hangaard said. “But anything’s possible I suppose.”

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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