Number of students playing football is 'steadily declining,' say Windsor coaches

There has been a rapid decline in the number of students playing football in Windsor-Essex and some high school coaches worry the sport is on the verge of a crisis.

'In the next 5, 7,10 years, high school football won't exist,' says coach Jalil Khoury

Fewer students are playing football in Windsor-Essex, CBC's Amy Dodge explores why that is. 2:11

There has been a rapid decline in the number of students playing football in Windsor-Essex, and some high school coaches worry the sport is on the verge of crisis.

While some schools consistently maintain healthy football programs, others are struggling to fill their teams with players.

During this year's Windsor and Essex County Secondary Schools Athletic Association (WECSSAA) football season, four high school teams pulled the plug — St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School, Catholic Central High School, Vincent Massey Secondary School and St. Anne Catholic High School.

Additionally, some schools that typically have a senior team didn't this year, including École secondaire catholique l'Essor, Belle River District High School and Leamington District Secondary School.

"The elephant in the room and everyone is talking about is the demise of football," said Catholic Central coach Jalil Khoury. "Everyone is saying in the next five, seven, 10 years, high school football won't exist."

Jalil Khoury is the coach at Catholic Central High School. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Khoury said there are several reasons why students aren't trying out for football teams, with one being the stigma surrounding injury and concussions.

"I think maybe parents are more apprehensive about putting their son, or potentially their daughter, playing football," said Khoury.

"It's something that we as football coaches have to kind of address and figure out an avenue where we can kind of assure parents that it is still safe and we do teach them the proper technique and fundamentals that's [required of] them. We have to get certified to make sure that we are doing the proper way by their son or daughter."

Another factor affecting participation in the sport is a lack of commitment from players — which frustrates others who want to compete.

"They didn't give their full effort," said Brendon Kwarayi, a player from Catholic Central. "Some people come to practice twice a week and a game every Thursday and some players wouldn't even come out."

Brendon Kwarayi's football team had to pull the plug this year because there weren't enough players. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

The low numbers on the teams meant Catholic Central and Villanova pulled its players from the league.

"We had no other choice but to fold the team," said Jolene Coste who runs the program at Villanova. "Did I want to do that? Absolutely not. I wanted the boys to finish. When we start something we finish it."

Coste added that safety becomes an issue if there aren't the right number of people on the field.

"I would never jeopardize the safety of a child, I don't want to see anything happen to these boys," she said.

Coste and Khoury said some players have competing interests that pull them away from games and practices and eventually from the team altogether. Those include things such as outside sports leagues, jobs, academics and gaming.

Sport still producing elite players

A history of success still lines the hallways at Catholic Central and Villanova with cased-in jerseys and photos.

"We have a really rich tradition history of kids who have played professional and at the Level 1 level," said Khoury.

Even outside the WECSSAA, two players from Essex County are in the Grey Cup. Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg is from Essex and and Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais was born in Belle River.

Jolene Coste runs the football program at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Secondary School. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

While there are more football players heading in a professional direction, Khoury said there's a growing divide in the quality of play.

"You're having a real contrast right now across WECSSAA football ... we don't want to see it get where we only have two or three teams in a stronghold in the WECSSAA league," said Khoury.