• John Macon Gillespie

Down Goes Houlka Football

As I sit back and try to bring back all that said and happened, I feel terrible.

I feel terrible for the kids. The community. The school.

Losing a football program is never enjoyable, and it rarely seems fair. It's not fair for the kids that will never get to lace up their cleats and put on shoulder pads. It's not fair for the kids that will never get to play a pickup football game beside the bleachers on a Friday night. It's not fair for the friends and family that will never get to share stories from the gridiron.

It's not fair.

I once was a Houlka Wildcat. I remember the first football game I ever played in. I was the 7th grade quarterback for the Wildcats, scared to death on the field of the Hatley Tigers. After the final horn sounded, however, it hit me. I was a football player.

Kids at Houlka Attendance Center now won't experience that feeling I felt 7 years ago.

The Chickasaw County School District voted unanimously on Monday night to disband the Houlka football program, citing a “lack of participation in summer workouts” and “lack of players” as reasons for the vote. If you'll remember, this same school board met in May to discuss potentially cutting the program, but no action was taken due to lack of a motion.

Now I pose this question. Are there reasons to cancel a sports program? Yes.

Having 19 students say that they are interested in playing football and having 13 show up at summer workouts is concerning. A lack of players means no team.

Now another question. Is it the responsibility of school administration and the community to try to save a sports program? Yes.

There is no question that the members of the Houlka community fought valiantly. Every time there was a school board meeting to discuss the future of the football program, concerned parents, players and citizens turned out in droves. This time, however, they knew.

A throng of people showed up to see the fate of their football program, but they knew what the outcome would be from the start. They knew that by the time the board members recessed, they would no longer have a football team.

So now the question turns here: Did the school administration do all they could do to save Houlka football?

Did coaches reach out to players? Did administrators put in place opportunities for kids to participate in football or be taught the values and excitement that a Friday night brings? Was football made a priority by the school, or was it put on the back-burner?

I don't believe that Houlka football was given the attention that it deserves. Houlka has always been famous for its basketball, but it is a proverbial promised land of athletes. Houlka produces athletes that very few small schools can match. They could have had a very good football team under the right circumstances.

A lack of numbers on a football team is very concerning, but for 1A schools, that's life. Programs of Houlka's size have to consistently survive with fewer than 30 players on the roster. I have seen teams compete with fewer than 20. Is it easy? Absolutely not. But it's football, and that's all that matters.

The children of Houlka, however, no longer have football, and I can't help but wonder if the administration did all they could to help the program thrive. Was there an agenda in place against football by the administration, or do they just not know what it takes to build a strong program? I understand that a small number of players is a legitimate health concern and no team should have to play when a child's health is on the line, but was anything done to attract more kids to the team? Was a real solution to the problem of a small roster sought out, or did everyone just accept that the program was doomed?

I once was a young football player, and the pride that comes with that is unparalleled. It saddens me that students at Houlka Attendance Center will no longer get to feel that pride and exhilaration. Upstart football programs, take note. Be dedicated. Do everything you can to make a good, strong program for your school, community and kids, because once it's taken away from's just not fair.

#Houlka #JohnMaconGillespie

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