FERGUS FALLS, Minn.-Fergus Falls Hillcrest football coach Evan Newman is not happy with the Comets moving from Minnesota Class 9-man football to 11-man football in Class 1A.
"We are very frustrated," Newman said. "We barely had enough kids for 9-man. We have 60 foreign exchange students, who count against our enrollment, who don't play football, and if they do, it's their first time and never make it on varsity."
The Minnesota State High School League announced section assignments for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 high school years on Saturday. Enrollment for Class 9-man football was designated as 150 and below. Hillcrest's enrollment is listed at 182.
"We appealed, but were turned down," Newman said. "I feel like the MSHSL doesn't care about losing another football program and is pressured by public schools saying we recruit, which is 100 percent not true. Not sure what we are going to do."
Hillcrest won its first section title since 2004 last season. Of the eight teams in the state quarterfinals, the Comets had the largest enrollment at 178. Grand Meadow was at 95, Cleveland 133, Edgerton-Ellsworth 138, Cromwell-Wright 76, Waubun 109, Ely 139 and Stephen-Argyle 94 for the enrollment of the other 9-man state qualifiers.
Enrollment doesn't tell the whole story. Of the eight teams to qualify for state, the Comets had the smallest roster with 24 players listed. Stephen-Argyle was above with 29 on its roster. Every other team had 31 or more on its roster.
"We can't make up kids from thin air," Newman said. "Last year, I was comfortable with 12 kids I would put in the game at the start of the season. By the time we made it to state, we were down to five healthy kids and played our state playoff game undermanned and had to play freshmen, who weren't ready.
"The state says they are worried about safety. Sure doesn't seem that playing freshmen, who aren't ready, is smart to me."