MOORHEAD-Friday nights for the Moorhead Park Christian football team last fall were generally spent watching other teams play football. Falcons coach Lawton Burgstahler did some work on the radio, commentating games, and players went to other schools to watch their friends play.
There was no varsity football at Park Christian last season due to low roster numbers and fear for the safety of the players. The Falcons played two varsity games in 2016 before Burgstahler pushed to forfeit the remainder of the season and move to a junior varsity schedule.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever made in my coaching career," Burgstahler said. "It was unbelievably hard, not just to make the decision, but then to tell the guys, especially those seniors that year."
Burgstahler's commentating career will have to be put on hiatus. This fall season will welcome back Park Christian varsity football in Class 9-man.
"It's exciting," Burgstahler said. "It's absolutely exciting to actually get a chance as a head coach to have my first full season of varsity football."
Park Christian opened Burgstahler's first season as a varsity head coach in 2016 with a 52-12 loss to MACCRAY and a 48-0 loss to Underwood. Burgstahler didn't sleep for three days after the Underwood loss. He could not escape the memories of fear in the eyes of his players in that game. He saw a concussion to a senior, two freshmen getting hurt in the first half and was forced to take banged up kids out of the game for their own safety.
"We've gained support and I've gained numbers," Burgstahler said. "There's interest. Obviously, people have seen that I do focus on safety. Last year, taking a step back to (junior varsity), the competition was perfect."
Burgstahler had 16 players on his roster when he took over in 2016 and last season as well. In 2016, he had three seniors, one junior and one sophomore. The rest were freshmen and eighth-graders. The Falcons head into this fall with 25 on the roster.
"The excitement is unbelievable," Burgstahler said. "It's not a freshman going up against a senior anymore. I don't have to force a freshman or someone into a game situation that they shouldn't be in. It's going to be a junior or a senior playing against a junior or a senior."
Park Christian went 4-4 last season with its junior varsity schedule. The Falcons played on Mondays, Thursday, occasionally two games a week. They basically played whenever a team could fit them in, but it never felt the same as what the players saw when they watched their friends on other teams play under the lights on a Friday night.
The Falcons got a taste in the last game of the season. Fergus Falls Hillcrest forfeited it's opening playoff game, so Park Christian scheduled a game under the lights with the Comets.
"That was a ton of fun," Burgstahler said. "Our guys got the experience and their seniors got to play a last game. It got the guys jacked for this year."
Park Christian will open the football season on the road against Hancock at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 30. It's the first varsity football game for the Falcons since Sept. 9, 2016.
"It was the absolute right choice, and you can look at the kids and the kids are excited to play," Burgstahler said. "They've been through some tough games where they had to fight til the end. They're excited to be back on Friday night lights. You take that away from the kid, they see it and they want that again."