The High School North and High School South football teams play each other in the above file photo.

The West Windsor-Plainsboro School District has cancelled the varsity football program at High School North for the upcoming season.

Superintendent David Aderhold said the district was left with no other decision, citing a “lack of care and compassion” on the part of state football officials and the state Department of Education.

Instead of a varsity program, the team will play a JV schedule. The other option, Aderhold said, was to play a varsity schedule at North, and make game decisions on a week-by week-basis. High School South, which will play a varsity schedule, is unaffected by the decision.

The suspension of the varsity program at High School North is the result of dwindling participation numbers in North’s football program. The team only had four seniors, four juniors and 16 sophomores set to play in the upcoming fall football season.

Those numbers would have left the team largely inexperienced and undersized in a sport where teams routinely use 30 or 40 players per game to minimize fatigue, and injuries are common.

‘Our concerns have been given lip service with no solutions provided.’

The West Jersey Football League, the NJSIAA and the state DOE all rejected requests by the school district to allow the teams at high schools North and South to merge. The decision was made based on a rule that doesn’t allow Group III and larger schools to combine. High School North is Group III and High School South is Group IV. The rule was enacted to prevent the creation of powerhouse teams.

“Our concerns have been given lip service with no solutions provided,” said Aderhold. “Despite the significant disappointment that this decision will bring, the HSN varsity football team continues to face significant participation numbers and cannot risk entering the fall 2017 season undermanned and undersized. As a district, we will not risk the health and safety of our students.”

Aderhold criticized the decisions officials made against the football merger, stating that they chose to follow “archaic rules” rather than considering the well-being of the affected students. “The WJFL and the NJSIAA should be ashamed of themselves,” Aderhold said.

The superintendent lauded the support he has relieved from the community throughout the process. “Throughout the past several months, I have been overwhelmed by the support of our school community; in particular, our football community has shown tremendous heart and character,” he said. “From our boosters to our Wildcats to our cheer squads to our marching band to our student body, I am proud of how you have stood together.”

In reaction to the school district’s problem, State Senator Shirley Turner—who represents West Windsor in the 15th District—called for legislation that allow districts in WW-P’s position to combine sports programs as long as they are within the same district.

“The situation is really unfair to the entire school community,” Turner said. “Football is a large part of the high school experience and many school events and activities are associated with football. This doesn’t just impact football players; it also affects marching band, cheerleading, homecoming events, pep rallies and the spirit of the school. The closing of the football program is a big loss to High School North.”

Turner said that she was contacted by Aderhold and a number of parents in June for assistance in helping convince the state DOE in granting an appeal that woudl allow the teams to merger. Turner said that she and several of her 15th District colleagues in the state assembly sent a letter to the DOE commissioner’s office urging they grant WW-P’s appeal.

Despite the legislative support, Peter Schulman, deputy DOE commissioner, ruled against the district in July.

“The district’s hand was forced, in this case, because the students’ safety takes precedence,” said Turner. “However, it is a huge disappointment to the athletes and students who looked forward to cheering on their team this school year. A flat out denial is wrong; there are too many gray areas that test the need for a hard and fast rule.”

High School North is the third school in the state to end its football program this year—Pitman and Ridgefield also suspended their varsity football programs for the upcoming season due to low turnout.