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Future unclear for Freeman football

Freeman's Cody Roth (12) gets tackled by two Canistota players during a high school football game in October 2012. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

FREEMAN -- The future is unclear for the Freeman football team.

Freeman once dominated the gridiron, winning nine-man state championships in 1981, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, but now the school is on the brink of calling it quits.

The Flyers are struggling to field a team again this season. Last year, Freeman had 17 players, freshmen through seniors, on its roster and was the second lowest in Class 9AA. The Flyers finished with 11 healthy players in 2013, according to Don Hotchkiss, the school's superintendent and athletic director.

"Right now, we had 13 who wanted to play football this fall and we're not sure what we're going to do," Hotchkiss said Monday. "Whether we can field a team with that number this year remains to be seen. We're not sure what we're going to do."

With the decreasing roster numbers, Hotchkiss had several options in sight. His first hope was that Freeman could co-op with Canistota for one year without moving the combined team to Class 11B.

"We made that request because Marion did that exact same thing. They attached with Canistota for basketball and didn't move up to Class A," Hotchkiss said, adding surrounding schools don't want to co-op because the added numbers would mean a team would have to move up a class. "That was our pitch to the board and they turned us down."

Hotchkiss' next hope was that Freeman players could open enroll to play football at another school without losing eligibility for the winter and spring sports seasons. The proposal again was turned down because of a South Dakota High School Activities Association rule, which says if a student chooses to open enroll twice in one school year, it rules him or her ineligible for all activities after the second open enrollment.

Hotchkiss, who has been the AD for almost 20 years at Freeman, is worried if students chose to open enroll, it could play a factor in winter or spring athletics.

"It has a bigger effect than just football if kids would decide to leave," he said. "There's some anxiety among the kids and their parents. We'd certainly like kids to come out for football and we certainly think there are enough kids to play.

"We're disappointed the way things are going."

Hotchkiss said the headcount for boys in the school grades freshmen through seniors is around 40 for the 2014-15 school year.

Jim Kaufman, who has been the head coach of the Flyers for the last eight seasons, has left the school district to teach agriculture in Menno. Freeman's head coaching position hasn't been filled, according to Hotchkiss, but assistant coach Chris Sayler hopes the school can field a team this season.

"We want to keep the program alive," Sayler said. "It's my hope we can still have a football team this season, whether varsity or junior varsity schedule, to keep the program going."

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.