ASHLAND, Ore. — Changes and creativity when it comes to sports in the first half of 2021 will be plentiful. The latest development in that vein is Ashland High School deciding to only play Junior Varsity football this spring.
Athletic Director Karl Kemper confirmed via email Tuesday with NewsWatch 12 Sports the Grizzlies will only be participating in JV football and they would not field a varsity team. In a follow-up, Kemper explained the main reasoning behind the decision was player safety.
According to Kemper, the mismatch between a 6A and 5A school was "a competitive disadvantage in football that puts our kids physically at risk for catastrophic injury." He says the typical 6A roster can have anywhere between 80 and 90 players in their program every year (last year North and South Medford both had 53 players on their varsity roster, according to their 2019 OSAA rosters) while 5A rosters have significantly fewer players.
This spring season left Ashland High School at a distinct disadvantage. Of the 45 players that Kemper said they had in the summer, only 25 committed to play in the spring season. He said players made the decision not to play for "a variety of reasons."
Kemper said a JV schedule against local 4A teams would make the most sense for the Grizzlies with just 25 players, as that's the typical roster size for those teams.
The tough part about the decision, Kemper said, was playing a JV schedule meant seniors would not be able to participate. He did, however, say that any Ashland seniors wishing to transfer in order to play somewhere else would have the full support of himself and Ashland head coach Beau Lehnerz.
"In my professional role," Kemper wrote in an email to NewsWatch 12 Sports. "I always try to look through this lens: I will only provide opportunities for kids that I would for my own kid. In this case, both Coach Beau Lehnerz and I actually do have sons who play on the team. We both feel that this is an outcome in which we are comfortable as fathers that we are putting our boys in a safe situation to have a positive experience."
For now, the Ashland JV team is scheduled to play three games this spring according to their OSAA page.
This article was updated at 11:00 pm on Tuesday, February 16 with more recent information.