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Randy Hollis: Ogden High trying to tackle tough issues facing football program's future

during the Bonneville vs. Ogden football game at Bonneville High School, Ogden, Utah, Friday, Sept., 25, 2009.
during the Bonneville vs. Ogden football game at Bonneville High School, Ogden, Utah, Friday, Sept., 25, 2009.
Chen Wang, Deseret News

OGDEN — The Ogden High football program finds itself in a precarious position these days.

Do the Tigers stay in lock step with the recent Utah High School Activities Association realignment and continue to get their heads kicked in? Or do they buck the system, try seceding from the union, so to speak, and go it alone?

Indeed, it's become a quandary that will be mighty difficult to resolve.

After coming off a winless season last year in which they were outscored in their 10 games by an average of around 46-7, and an even-worse average of 52-6 in Region 5 play, the Tigers were hoping they could convince the UHSAA they should be reclassified into the 3AA ranks for football — where their traditional crosstown rival Ben Lomond resides — for the 2015-16 school year.

But that didn't happen, as the UHSAA decided to keep Ogden in 4A, where it's scheduled to compete — or, at least, try its best to compete — in a revised Region 5 football league that's become even more of a juggernaut than before.

The league's new lineup will include newcomers East, Highland, Bountiful and Woods Cross — whose programs all reached the 4A state playoffs last fall — along with long-standing league members Bonneville and Box Elder. The Bees were also a state playoff participant last season.

With their prospects for any measure of gridiron success seemingly running out of time on the scoreboard clock, OHS is strongly considering the possibility of seeking independent status in which the Tigers' football program, though still belonging to the UHSAA, would no longer be affiliated with Region 5 — where they haven't won a game over the past two seasons — or any other region for the next two years.

Instead, the Tigers' program would play an independent schedule — think BYU on a high school scale — in which they'd be free to play games against whatever schools they could arrange to meet up with.

Though this arrangement means Ogden's football team wouldn't be eligible to participate in the state playoffs, it would allow the school an opportunity to hopefully be more competitive by scheduling some lesser opponents as opposed to all those Region 5 foes they'd be obligated to face over the next two seasons.

Do not think, for one second, that Ogden High is trying to bend the rules, beat the system, or pull a fast one here, because this issue is about much more than simply winning a football game or two.

After all, a move down to 3AA is not going to turn the Tigers into instant title contenders. That prospect is probably many years away and, quite frankly, might never happen.

No, this is about trying to find a reasonable solution for a school that seeks to help young men develop a positive self-image, rise above the adversity that life's circumstance has dealt them, and strive to find success in their adult lives long after their prep football careers have ended.

This is about a school where, though its raw enrollment numbers might make it fall into the smaller side of the 4A ranks, there are critical socioeconomic factors at play here that far outweigh the importance of slotting the school where those student numbers say it belongs.

Enrollment at Ogden and Ben Lomond is skewered by the inner-city nature of much of these two schools' student populations. Many of them come from lower-income minority families who simply can't afford to play football.

This leads to a variety of issues that have severely hurt Ogden High's participation numbers. Where many high schools might have as many as 70, 80, 90 or even 100 or more young men coming out for the football team, the numbers at OHS have shrunk to the low-40s the last couple of years.

Those low numbers are driven by the following factors:

A disproportionate number of their students come from broken, single-parent homes where finances are considerably tighter than other places. That means many young men who could make contributions to the football team either can't afford to pay the fees involved with playing the sport, or need to work and have jobs in order to make money needed to support their families' income.

Many potential athletes don't have the grades that would allow them to participate.

Many of these young men have already fathered children in their teen years, which again requires them to grow up too soon, find jobs and support their families. Thus, they simply don't have time to play football.

And who wants to play for a program that has struggled the way Ogden and Ben Lomond have in recent years? Much like winning breeds continued success, losing can become a habit that perpetuates itself and discourages potential participants from the desire to get involved.

It's not like the Tigers were world-beaters when they were in the 3A ranks before. Outside of a 6-4 season in 2009, when they were a 4A school, Ogden High hasn't had a winning season thus far in this century.

The Tigers went 3-7 and 4-7 in 2012 and 2011, respectively, before being bumped up into the 4A classification in 2013. They went 1-9 as a 4A school in 2010. And before that, from 2001-08, they went just 9-31 in region play and 20-64 overall while competing as a 3A school.

Indeed, a defeatist mentality can permeate a program and prevent it from rising above its increasingly downtrodden surroundings.

This past week, Ogden High administrators, coaches, parents, players, district officials and school board members met a couple of times to try and decide that they should do.

They're worried about what lopsided losses might do to their players' psyche, and they're very concerned about the physical ramifications of continually going up against teams that are bigger, faster, stronger and deeper than their Tiger teams are.

A move to 3A certainly wouldn't solve all their problems, but it definitely would help to some extent. And although seeking independent status would present some serious scheduling problems — again, a la BYU — it might be the wisest way to go for a program that has fallen on mighty tough times.

At Ogden High, and other schools in similar situations around the state, it's a serious matter of simply trying to find the best way to tackle these challenging issues.

And it's of vital importance for the mental, physical and emotional well-being of these young men as they learn and grow through having a more positive experience, which will hopefully make them more positive, productive adults in the future.

Bottom line is, that's what high school sports should be all about anyway.