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Former Freeman players try to save team

FREEMAN -- In an attempt to save the team they once played for, former Freeman Flyer football players are trying to rally others to attend a meeting at 2 p.m Sunday at Freeman Public School in Freeman.

Freeman wrestling coach and assistant football coach Chris Sayler said the meeting will have the support of former players from the nine-man state championship teams of 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. Sunday's meeting will be a chance for former players and community leaders to brainstorm ideas on what options Freeman has left to save its team.

Sayler said it's important for current students to hear from the former Flyers at a future date about their experiences with the program.

"We want those guys to speak and encourage kids to stick with the football program," Sayler said. "It's extremely important because if we lose football, it's going be that much harder to try and bring it back."

Sayler said the school needs to try all avenues to keep the team, even if that means just playing a junior varsity or varsity schedule.

Freeman Superintendent and Athletic Director Don Hotchkiss said a big brother mentoring program has already been discussed to help both create some interest and encourage kids to join the football team.

"Seventeen kids would be the bare minimum to feel we would have enough kids to play a full season," Hotchkiss said. "If we could get 20, that would be great."

Freeman went 0-8 last season and has already tried to co-op with the Canistota football team, but the request was denied by the South Dakota High School Athletics Association. The SDHSAA also denied the option of Freeman players open-enrolling to play football for other schools but still playing for Freeman in other sports. Despite the responses the Freeman team has already received, Hotchkiss said the community is still going to try other options.

"We're doing whatever we can to try," said Hotchkiss, who has been the AD at Freeman for almost 20 years. "We will try to encourage the kids to come out for our program and continue our football program for future kids."

The team, which started with 17 players at the start of the last year's season, finished the 2013 season with only 11 healthy players on its roster and hasn't filled its head coaching position for this year.

According to Sayler, the position for Freeman's head football coach has no applicants, and is a position that Sayler feels needs to be filled within days. Freeman was coached by Jim Kaufman for the past eight seasons, but Kaufman left for an agriculture teaching position in Menno.

"The preparation that goes into preparing for a football season is quite high," Sayler said. "Compared to other sports, not saying you don't have to prepare for them, but football is just at a whole different level. It's vital that a head coach is named here shortly."

Hotchkiss said the possibility of not having a football team for the coming school year would hurt all members of the Freeman community.

"Not having a high school football team and not having games to go to on Friday nights would be a big change," Hotchkiss said, adding Freeman is expected to have around 40 boys enrolled in the freshman through senior classes in the 2014-15 school year. "It would be a big disappointment not only for the kids but for the community in general."

Sayler agreed with Hotchkiss, adding that all sports programs would feel the after effects of not having a football program.

"It's not just going to affect football," Sayler said. "It's going to affect my wrestling program. It's going to affect the basketball program. It's going to affect track."