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Low roster numbers cause concerns for Freeman football

FREEMAN — Fourteen years ago, Freeman football was at an all-time high.

Jim Aisenbrey and his Flyers won their fourth straight 9-man football title on a team that featured 35 players — the most Aisenbrey had on a roster while at Freeman.

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Fast forward to 2013 and there are 17 players, freshmen through seniors, representing Freeman on the football field. The number is the second lowest in Class 9AA. Marty Indian, which forfeited a game last season because it couldn’t field enough players, has 12 players on its roster this season.

Aisenbrey, who is now a principal in Baltic, wasn’t concerned by the numbers of this year’s Freeman team.

“Numbers go up and down,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the population in the school. One year I was in Freeman, there were a lot less boys than girls in the school. If there aren’t a lot of guys on the team, it could be because of how many boys are in the school.”

Freeman Superintendent Don Hotchkiss said the ratio of boys and girls in the high school is 50/50.

Freeman’s current head coach Jim Kaufman said this is the lowest total number of kids out for football he’s seen in his 21 years of coaching in Freeman.

“We have been fighting the number game for a long time,” Kaufman said. “Without a doubt, this is the fewest amount of kids we have ever had. Our athletic director did a survey last week with kids that are not involved in sports.

“In the results, most of the kids said they couldn’t play because of after school jobs or other engagements.”

The lack of numbers is a concern for Kaufman in regards to the safety of his players. After a losing a pair of offensive lineman to season-ending injuries and the daily bumps and bruises, Kaufman said he has 12 players who play consistently on a week-to-week basis.

Despite the low numbers, the Flyers have not had to forfeit a game this season.

“I can’t fault the kids’ effort at all,” Kaufman said. “Sometimes if they need a break, they can’t get a break, so we try to keep our timeouts for that. They work hard in the offseason and you feel bad for them that they have to fight the battle all alone.”

Freeman (0-7) has not won a game this season, but Kaufman said his team will keep fighting all the way to the end. The Flyers conclude their season against Class 9A’s top-ranked Howard Thursday in Howard.

“So many times people count success with the number of wins and loss but from where we are standing, we really can’t do that,” he said.

Kaufman was a defensive coach during the Flyers’ glory days in the 1990s, coaching alongside Aisenbrey.

The Flyer program Aisenbrey captained for 24 years is a fond memory. During Aisenbrey’s tenure as head coach, he said the roster number went as low as 21.

One of the year’s the Flyers had 21 players was 1981 — Aisenbrey’s first year as head coach. It was also the season Freeman won the Class 9A state championship.

“There was a lot of pride for the program back then,” Aisenbrey said. “I know a lot of times when kids did work sheets or took a test they would sign their name and then put their football number after the name.”

Aisenbrey went on to win four additional titles in the 1990s. He said the morale was at an all-time high around the community during the school’s string of four straight 9-man titles — three at the 9A and one at 9B.

“There was a lot of excitement in town for the game,” he said. “I remember one of the news stations did a story on how the town was locked up because everyone went to the game. We had a really good following back then. Even when we played on the road, we had a lot of fans that would come.”

Kaufman hopes the low roster number is temporary and more students come out to the gridiron in future seasons.