Sidney football will look a lot different this fall as the Cowboys are expecting to play in Class A.
Class A means a switch from 8-man to 11-man football, something Sidney hasn’t played since 2001.
Sidney Superintendent Tim Hood still has one final appeal to keep the program in 8-man and he’ll present his case to the Representative Council of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, but that meeting isn’t scheduled to take place until March 13.
Football classifications and district assignments are expected to be released for the 2020 and 2021 season by the end of this month, according to the Iowa Football Coaches Association. Schedules for the next two seasons are to be released in early March, a timeline that shrinks Sidney’s already slim chances of continuing in 8-Man.
“I understand there has to be rules,” said Hood, “but my point is you can’t always write rules that cover everything. I just want them to listen to my appeal and if the same decision is made then so be it.”
With that information and the fact that Sidney’s initial inquiry and appeal to the IHSAA’s Executive Board have both been denied, Cowboy football coach Donnie Sears has told the kids that he’s “98 percent sure we’ll be 11-man.”
Sidney’s enrollment number for grades 9 through 11 is higher than the maximum number to play 8-Man football in the state. The 9-11 enrollment is what is used by the IHSAA and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union for athletic classification in all sports.
Hood’s appeal is based on the fact that Sidney’s current tuition agreement with Hamburg ends after this school year.
“The state is still counting those students,” said Hood. “I have simply asked the state to reconsider.”
“(Hood) went to the state and said we don’t have that agreement,” added Sears, “and if (Hamburg) signs somewhere else and those kids go elsewhere we would lose those numbers and fall below 120. The inquiry was denied saying you can’t prove they would leave Sidney. We appealed it and they said the same thing. So, common sense says we’ll be Class A.”
While district assignments and classifications aren’t known yet a few of the closest teams geographically to Sidney that played Class A football last year are AHSTW, Riverside, Southwest Valley, St. Albert and Tri-Center.
Sears thought the program was headed for Class A before the 2018 season, but an exemption was discovered giving Sidney two more years in the 8-man game. Sears said the window created by the exemptiion two years ago is now gone.
The Sidney coaching staff has already started the needed extra work to field an 11-man team this fall.
“It’s going back to school,” said Sears. “There have been emails to a lot of coaches, a lot of film and webinars. (Our coaching staff) has signed up for more clinics than what we have traditionally done. We’re looking at our athletes and numbers and seeing what we can run on offense and defense with what we have.”
Sears said the coaching staff has already met with the team and given them what they are currently looking at for a base offense and defense. A playbook should be ready sometime in March and Sears plans on taking the kids to a team camp this summer, something he hasn’t done with the program since its first few years in 8-Man.
“Our kids are excited about it,” said Sears. “We’ll play some young kids and there will be a learning curve. It’s going to take some time (for us to figure this out completely). It’s not going to happen next fall. We get to play new schools in a little different game with more room to roam.”
The biggest concern Sears has on the field is depth. He isn’t concerned about fielding a varsity team, but putting a junior varsity team on the field could be difficult.
“We can’t play a kid Friday, and then again on Monday,” said Sears. “That isn’t doing the kid any justice and makes us even less competitive on Friday and then it snowballs the wrong way. Our question is can we field a team in the lower level to get (the younger kids) the experience they need.”
Another concern is Sidney’s football facility. The dimensions of the 11-man field are longer and wider than the 8-man field. Sears said the field is in the same place it was when Sidney fielded an 11-man team nearly two decades ago, and he remembers it was tight in spots.
“Both goalposts will be moved back 10 yards,” said Sears. “There is width there, but it will be tight to the track.”
Sidney has had to bring in portable bleachers onto the track the last couple years because the field’s current bleachers are unsafe for public use. Sears said the distance between the sideline and the bleachers in the current setup “will be pretty tight.”
The passage of the recent bond issue calls for work to be done to Sidney’s football facility, but Hood said to have anything ready for the 2020 season isn’t realistic.
“We haven’t sold bonds yet,” said Hood. “There won’t be anything ready for this fall. The best case scenario is for next fall.”
Sears’ first four years as Sidney’s football coach were its last four years of 11-man. The Cowboys played well, winning 25 games over those four seasons, but made the move to 8-man for travel purposes.
Sears said most of his assistant coaches played the 11-man game and a few of the kids played some 11-man youth football, but the likely change this fall will be something new for everyone involved in Sidney.