BILLINGS — Grass Range-Winnett will not field a football team this fall, Grass Range athletic director Verna Jessen told 406mtsports.com on Friday.
Jessen said the Class C 6-Man football cooperative was down to six players before another player dropped out this week. The Montana High School Association said it was too late for the remaining five players to form a different co-op with another school this fall, Jessen said.
Some of those players, including Jessen's son Jacob, will try to play for another school this season via a hardship waiver, per Jessen, who expects Jacob to hear from the MHSA about his waiver next week. Jacob was an all-state selection last year as a junior, and Jessen said he has received interest from college football programs, including Carroll's.
"If they don’t let him (play this fall), they’re kind of taking away some scholarship opportunities from him," Jessen said Saturday. "He doesn't get another senior year."
Jessen said Grass Range and Winnett each have about seven boys currently enrolled in high school, and she's not sure how many of them or current eighth graders will come out to play football next year. The schools will look into a co-op with a local school such as Lewistown for next fall, she said.
A "perfect storm" of factors contributed to the low numbers, Jessen said. One of Grass Range-Winnett's best players, now-senior Charlie Keith, transferred to Manhattan Christian, and Wade Anderson moved to Roundup, according to Jessen. Three junior high football players decided not to play, among others.
"I think this is just a cycle that every school goes through," Jessen said.
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Last fall, the Rangers reached the 6-Man state semifinals, where they lost to Wibaux 60-6. It was their third straight playoff appearance.
Last year's Grass Range-Winnett coach, T.J. Smith, resigned in June and is now an assistant coach for Custer-Hysham. Jessen's husband, Jeremy, replaced Smith and administered a handful of practices this month before the season was canceled.
Smith was optimistic about the Rangers' chances this season and expected them to field at least seven players.
"I never dreamed that they would have to cancel their season," Smith said Friday.
Smith wondered if his resignation played a role in the low numbers.
"There’s a lot of guilt," he said. "They were good kids. I think everybody that wants to play football should be able to play."
Lindsay Rossmiller contributed to this report.