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In what was probably the low point of the North Bay high school football season, the Healdsburg varsity team voted to quit playing and cancel the rest of the season after losing badly in its first two games.

What went into the decision was complicated, but much of it had to do with dwindling participation numbers. The varsity roster included 18 players at the beginning of the season, but six players quit after 41-0 and 61-0 losses.

Healdsburg’s predicament is part of a national trend that played out on local fields. While the North Bay football season featured championship moments and outstanding performances, it also included signs that football isn’t the sure thing it once was when it comes to schools fielding rosters that can remain competitive through a grueling season.

Elsie Allen has struggled for years with a small turnout of committed players and a revolving door of coaches. The Lobos forfeited two games this year when coaches decided they didn’t have enough players to field a varsity team safely.

El Molino and Sonoma Valley played their seasons with small rosters, 24 each, while Analy had 29 and Piner 31 players.

Those numbers can make it difficult to field a full team, particularly in a physical sport where injuries are sure to thin the ranks as the season drags on.

“I’m no longer going to be the coach, partly because of that,” said Sonoma Valley coach Bob Midgely. “It’s frustrating to put all that time and effort in and ask kids to put the time and effort in, and then only be able do what you can do with what you got.

“I keep saying, ‘I can do it, I can change it.’ I keep talking to kids to get them to play football, but …”

The junior varsity team in Sonoma had a few more kids, as many as 40 at one point, Midgely said, so next year may be better.

Meanwhile, both Healdsburg and Elsie Allen coaches have high hopes that their programs are on the upswing, despite challenging years.

Elsie only fielded a varsity squad and barely even that. With yet another coaching change at the last minute, the school was on the verge of canceling the year altogether or only having a JV team. In the end, new coach Dallas Packard had his team compete in seven of nine games, with two forfeits.

“We got them to trust us, which is a good thing. Then we got them to trust the process, in believing that we can put up points on the board. Next year, when we get enough kids with the incoming freshmen, we should be a lot bigger team,” he said.

With a team was heavy on freshmen and sophomores, Packard hopes to build on their experience next year.

“We’ll actually have a full summer with the kids,” he said. “We’ll have workouts and actually have a summer program. That will be very helpful for us.”

Packard was hired just a few weeks before the first game, barely giving him enough time to learn the kids’ names, let alone their abilities.

“I think next year will definitely be a better team, not the Elsie Allen we’ve seen,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I knew it was the right place for me to go and that I could change this program into the program I wanted it to be. The kids believe in it.”

In Healdsburg, coach Dave Stine said he had a lot of time to think about next year after this year’s varsity team voted to halt the season the last week of August. The Greyhounds did continue with a JV team, which included 20 freshmen, 15 sophomores and 12 juniors.

“All the rest of them I’ve talked to want to play again next year,” he said. “We feel good about the freshmen, sophomores and the juniors coming back, their mindset.”

Two years ago, Healdsburg didn’t have a JV team and last year only 11 underclassmen came out. From that 11, only three continued playing, for a variety of reasons.

Stine is in rebuilding mode.

“We focused (this year) on working with the kids we had, getting them ready to move to varsity. … We’re not going to win the league championship, probably. But two years after, I’m pretty optimistic that we can compete at the top of the game,” he said.

El Molino has battled smaller rosters off and on for years, but around two dozen is about average, coach Randy Parmeter said. Injuries knocked several key Lions players out this year — all injured playing other sports.

But like Sonoma Valley’s Midgely, he sees a reduction in overall interest in playing football.

A trend seen across the nation, some attribute that to parents’ worries over concussion danger, growing interest in soccer, a move to pick one sport and play it year-round, or simply a greater number of distractions for high school students.

All coaches have had kids quit, from lack of interest or unhappy with their playing time. Both coaches said many of their young athletes have never been part of a team before, so they may not understand the commitment and time it takes.

“The last three years, a lot of kids that came out for football had never played a team sport. The guys that stuck it out, they got something out of it,” Midgely said.

“I remember trying to quit Little League when I was a kid. I was mad about something. Then I remember my mom laughing at me. ‘Yeah, you can quit next year when you don’t sign up. That’s how you quit. Nope, you signed up, you finish.’ That was great because she made me think about it,” he said.

Midgely said he had a good player recently tell him that he gets as much excitement and fulfillment from playing video games as he does football.

“That was a sock in the belly to me,” said Midgely, a coach for 29 years. He said he’ll take a break from coaching and consider returning after some time.

Parmeter, too, said it’s hard to recruit kids onto the team and get them to stay.

“It takes a lot to keep these kids motivated and keep going,” he said. “Football is a hard sport. Football is a grind.”

At Elsie Allen, the most beleaguered team in the area, Packard wrestles with attracting athletes and getting them in football form so they don’t get injured. He hopes to have a strong turnout in the weight room and summer workouts.

“For some of these kids, they haven’t really played. I don’t want to put them in an environment where they could get hurt,” he said. “We’re a young team and I like that. We can grow together as one and not separate people.

“A lot of my kids have shown they have a lot of heart. My team will never give up.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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