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.”