Football: Burton cancels varsity season to develop young talent

Burton running back Delron Marman turns the corner against the Marshall in the Pumas’ only win of the season in 2011. (Photo by Tommy Quach)

By Jeremy Balan

Burton High School effectively canceled its 2012 varsity football season earlier this month, but head coach Anthony Rollins, who would be entering his fourth year at the helm of the program, has a lone message for the rest of the Academic Athletic Association.

“Don’t count us out,” Rollins said on Tuesday.

The decision by Rollins, which he admitted was embarrassing but necessary, is also a reversal of what he views as self-destructive practices of the past.

Instead of straining to field a varsity team with young players not ready to face mature competition, sacrificing the developmental qualities of a junior varsity team, Rollins has decided to do the opposite.

With only a single senior and three juniors returning from last year’s varsity squad, he sacrificed the varsity season for the good of the program. Instead of pushing inexperienced underclassmen up for the sole reason of sustaining a varsity team, Rollins has chosen to develop the nearly 40 football players that entered as freshmen last season against junior varsity competition.

“We’ve got into a self-perpetuating cycle,” Rollins said. “Everybody said that we had to have a varsity team and that was the most important thing, and I understand that, but it was killing our crops. We were eating well then, but we weren’t cultivating anything. We’re hungry right now. We’re starving.”

With the recent success of Mission, which had to cancel its 2009 AAA season then went on to win a Turkey Day championship last season, Rollins has a blueprint to turn things around quickly, but history does not favor the Pumas.

Since 2002, Burton has gone 13-53 in the AAA, has never made the postseason and has never had a winning record. With that history, Rollins feels drastic measures are justified. Marshall also canceled its varsity football program in 2007 and 2008, but this is this first time for Burton.

“We have been putting quantity over quality, and we’ve been doing it for too long, frankly,” Rollins said. “We could put 20-25 players out there, but we’re talking about putting 15-year-old boys up against 18-year-old men. We had a couple of years where we didn’t have a [junior varsity] season at all. The longer they’re at the school and they don’t play the sport – you lose them.”

The safety of those 15-year-olds was the main focus for Burton athletic director Tatiana Kanakis. Injuries caused last season’s Burton squad to cancel the final two games of its non-league season after a rash of injuries in its season-opener against Hercules cut the Pumas’ roster from 18 to 14 players.

“There was no way to field a varsity team,” Kanakis said. “We are also protecting our younger players from injury. We could field a team, but would you like to see those little guys go out and get injured? I don’t.”

Burton has never fielded a winning football team, but has also seen its numbers dwindle down in recent years due to a steep slide in enrollment. Burton’s enrollment actually increased to 877 last season after a total of 763 students in 2010-2011, but has significantly dropped from it’s total of about 1,600 students in 2005.

With the AAA schedule already set, Burton dropping from AAA play has also forced the rest of the league to scramble to fill an empty spot in their own schedules.

Galileo has been the only school to add a game so far, inserting a non-league matchup with Kennedy of Richmond in Week 3, which would normally be a bye week before AAA play starts.

Galileo head coach Mark Huynh was happy to know of Burton’s exit early in the offseason, but also fears the dropout of another team before the season starts.

“I thought that Marshall would drop before Burton did, so there’s an outside chance that two could drop, not just one,” Huynh said.

Lincoln and Mission have not been as lucky as Galileo, and still haven’t filled the vacant spots in their schedule. Both head coaches also also appear to be resigned to the fact that they will play just nine games.

“It’s too late in the game to add any,” said Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno. “It sucks, but what can you say? It’s the state of City football right now.”

Ferrigno said he would be willing to add a game in Week 3 or on Oct. 27, when the Mustangs were scheduled to play Burton, but Mission head coach Joe Albano said he would not be willing to sacrifice his Week-3 bye to play another game.

“It’s kinda disappointing and a little annoying that you miss a game, because you have a big space in the middle of the season,” Albano said. “It seemed like [Burton] had a pretty good team last year and a pretty good [junior varsity] team, but you looked on the sideline and you saw two or three kids, with 11 on the field.”

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19 Comments

  1. Don L. says:

    Unfortunately, but it’s the state of many AAA sports (except basketball, volleyball and track/cross-country).

    The AAA these days is a VARSITY only league. AAA baseball features about 11 varsity squads but only the BIG schools (Lowell, etc) have JV baseball programs.

    Many sports don’t have JV squads like Boys volleyball and soccer. Girls Volleyball has JV squads and boys/girls basketball too, but it’s unfortunate the AAA isn’t really developing talent. They are shoving youngsters up to varsity competition way before they are ready.

    It’s the state of the schools in the city with declining enrollment.

    • jbalan says:

      Burton’s enrollment is actually a bit of an aberration. Lincoln has gone down a bit, but is still over 2,000. Balboa has actually gone up a couple hundred in recent years, while Washington, Lowell, Marshall and Mission have pretty steady numbers. I have heard ISA has had some issues with enrollment as well, but I don’t know much about Wallenberg, O’Connell and Jordan.

      What I’m hearing from coaches about numbers, is more about demographics and commitment. Here is a quote from Mark Huynh that didn’t make the article that I think clarifies things:

      “We’re working our butts off to get kids to play. I have to talk kids into keeping them in the program. It happens all the time. There’s so much going on, they don’t want to put the work in and have to worry about grades and all that stuff.”

      • Don L. says:

        Jeremy,

        Yeah – I heard about the demographics issue. Supposedly, the Asian / Latin American kids don’t play football and instead focus on other sports. However, just like anything, we all know that there are GOOD number of Asian and Latin kids that play in AAA football too. I don’t think all the Caucasian and African American kids play football either.

        I think while culture / demographics, I think (at least for Asian kids) it boils down to the parents. If it’s not a safety issue (as football is violent), it’s academics. Happens a lot of Asian kids who suddenly don’t play sports in 7th grade as they need to get ready for high school. Then it’s the 11th grade when they need to get good test scores.

        Again, it’s not always the case, but being Asian myself, I see this occur more than I want to.

  2. Ari Gold says:

    Well said Don L., The city has to pinch every penny. And if it comes to saving a teacher’s job or an academic course, they will and should put that money towards that instead of a sports team.

    But nice to see the city putting money into renovating its playgrounds/parks. If kids cant get in shape playing high school sports at least they can play a friendly game of soccer, tennis, flag football at the new parks/playgrounds.

    • Don L. says:

      Yeah – I use one of the renovated playgrounds a lot (Minnie and Lovie Ward Center). Chinese Center and Sunset Rec are almost done too. The kids in the city deserve a place that is safe and clean to play.

      One wish (that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon) is for the AAA schools to remodel their athletic facilities. Some of the football fields get upgraded but gymnasium facilities are still piss poor. It would be great if some corporations or donors put in some money and get the AAA schools to redo all the city gymnasium (and other indoor athletic) facilities to more regulation.

      Outside schools who travel and play at a Galileo or Balboa are surprised to see the small courts that are there. On the positive side, it’s a place to play for the kids. On the flip side, it would be great if the kids have BETTER facilities like a lot of other public schools have.

  3. pf says:

    hope this wont happen to any other schools now.

  4. jacob says:

    what if the AAA merged with the WCAL I know this might sound out of hand but most of the WCAL have jv sports

    • Don L. says:

      Jake,

      The WCAL schools in SF were once part of the AAA. I highly doubt this would happen now with the WCAL structure firmly established. Merging leagues doesn’t really help the AAA anyway. Some of the WCAL JV teams may be better than the lower level AAA varsity teams. The problem is AAA isn’t getting enough participation to FORM JV teams.

      How can you get more participation? Good question. I wish I had the answer. I grew up loving to play sports and still play rec league basketball 20 years out of high school (my team lost 46-44 on a last second 3 pointer by the other team last night).

      Kids these days are too into their video games and cell phones.

      • IC Stars says:

        Riordan was never part of the AAA. They were in the old Catholic Athletic League, but I’ll bet those upcoming AAA football games will be close. Don’t count on a WCAL merger either.

  5. WCAL Alum says:

    Tough question. No easy solution.

    I believe SI left AAA after 66/67 school year.
    SH left after 68/69 school year.
    Riordan was never part of AAA ;one of original members of CAL that evolved into WCAL

  6. Ari Gold says:

    kids just on their cell phones? ummmm its everyone. anywhere you go, dont you see this?

  7. Don L. says:

    Though I am not a big fan of AAA football except watching the Turkey Day game (because most games are during the day and I work), I’d always see how the teams were doing. The AAA football program seems to go in cycles. Lincoln was pretty bad a few years ago until the current coach came in (and some talent too) and they won a few titles. Mission shut their program down but have bounced back.

    I think football talent exists in the CIty but there’s not enough to go around for all the schools. Plus, there isn’t big enough interest (at least in the public schools) to get 40 to 50 players to play. As various articles here and elsewhere have stated, most teams are lucky to have 30 players.

    • pf says:

      i think one reason they can not field 40-50 guys is because of the grade system, we live in a city where the unexpected happens. Might be walking down the bloack and some robbers stick you up. kids get distracted in school and fall behing classes because of the violence and drama around them.

  8. Blow says:

    Burton is really low on football players at the moment , maybe the coach will change his mind ? What if he works on the Junior Varsity Players to becoming varsity players and put all the upcoming freshmen’s on the JV squad , I’d rather see the JV’s go to varsity rather than not having a varsity because JV doesn’t even matter as much as varsity does. But on the other hand he was smart enough not to , 18 year old’s matching up againts 14-16 year old kids is crazy , but i hope to see the JV squad improve so burton can be be back on track with this whole varsity thing . I wish burton good luck .

  9. Mickey Blue Eyes says:

    So are tehy going to play a Frosh Soph schedule? or are they going to look for a JVschedule to play. It looks like they dropped Frosh Soph too on the San Francisco section page

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