Fulton Co. officials pondering future of high school's football team after winless, injury-plagued season with young players; superintendent: program going through a "short term issue"

Hickman Courier, Nov. 2, 2016

Pilots cancel playoff trip; discuss the future
by Charles Choate

School officials at Fulton County have issued a letter to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, which stated the Pilots will not participate in the Class-A state football playoffs.

The letter came following the Pilots 63-22 loss at Ballard Memorial, which concluded their second straight winless season at (0-9), and 27th loss in a row.

Athletic Director Rick Garland said the decision to pull out of the game was made due to the safety of the team’s players.

“At this point in time, all the administrators got together to discuss this. At our game at Halls, we were down to 13 players, and we had kids hurt and two taken off the field with possible concussions. We’ve had separated shoulders, knee injuries, Tanner Ford out most of the season with a high ankle sprain. In all my years here as coach, we have had the bumps and bruises that go along with football, but this season we have been hit with major injuries. We just really don’t have the kids to do it, so we thought it was best for the program and for the safety of the kids to not play,” stated Garland.

Garland said the Pilots were to play their first round game at Bethlehem, in Bardstown, but a letter was sent to the school informing them of the team’s decision to not play.

With the Pilots not winning a football game since a 20-18 decision at Fulton City on September 5th of 2014, Garland said the time had come to begin discussion about the future of the program at the high school.

“We’ve got to make some decisions in the next couple of weeks about what we want to do with football next season. We have to decide if we want to stay in the playoffs, get out of the playoffs, or go to a junior varsity schedule. We have got to build the program up. We can’t keep playing freshman and sophomores against these junior and senior teams. We can’t do it. It’s not fair to our kids. We have talent coming. We have a good group of middle school players and our junior league had 65 kids. The future does look bright, but we have to catch up,” added Garland.

The success of wins on the field has dwindled from the heydays of the 1980’s and 1990’s, when Sanger Field was standing room only on Friday nights, and the Pilots were a force in Western Kentucky.

Fulton County fielded several undefeated regular seasons, and for most of the 1985 season, were the Associated Press Class-A No. 1 team in the state. But since that time, the last winning season came at (6-4) in 2006, with the Pilots losing 91 of their last 100 games.

Having been a part of some of the Pilots most exciting years on the field, Head Coach David Gallagher said he wants to preserve the football program, but said success will have to come in many areas.

“There is no doubt that you have to have the kids participate. You have to have numbers, but you have to have a commitment from the school and the district. They are going to have to be financially committed to making sure the program is funded right and run well. The little league program is really good, but it needs to be supported to keep it going. It will be six years before you see the fruit of this, but the school has to be committed to athletics to fund the program in the right way. Not throwing away money frivolously, but showing the commitment to the program,” noted Gallagher.

Gallagher said he was frustrated at the situation, but added that Class-A football was in a critical state at many schools.

“It’s not going to fix itself overnight. Small schools are going to have to fight the battle. Eight-man football may be an option, because it’s big in other states. All options are going to have to be out on the table. The options I see for next year would be to drop out of the playoff system and go back to like the old Reelfoot schedule of just playing area teams of your own size, drop varsity football and play at a junior varsity level, drop football all together, or even just continue as we are. All of these will have to be discussed as possibilities. Maybe we are not going to win this battle and change this climate, but we are going to try,” added Gallagher.

School system Superintendent Aaron Collins said a re-evaluation of the program will take place with hopes of bringing back the success of a once successful sport.

“Every year we have a reevaluation with our coaches, and we will do that with the football team. We are at the end of the season and it was tough, but we did see some rewards. Our guys never did give up and continued to play hard and with passion. But it is an opportunity to see what lies ahead for football,” said Collins.

Collins said the Pilots had the option of not participating in the playoffs, and felt it was an opportunity that needed to be taken advantage of at this time.

“We decided it was in the best interest of our young men not to play. We have known about the option, and it’s something that we may want to do for the next couple of years. We issued a letter to he KHSAA of our decision. We may want to get away from the district and region for a couple and years, kind of get the wind behind our sails and play some more competitive schools in the area. I still think we can continue to grow this program, and I believe the foundation was made with the success and numbers of the youth football league that was restarted this year. We have laid the blocks for the future, but it’s the next couple of years that we really need to focus on. We need to look at playing teams like Fulton City, Gleason, Ballard Memorial, Greenfield. There is no doubt that there is a love for football in Fulton County. We have had the success here. It’s just a numbers game now with kids wanting to play. The climate is changing. It’s just this short term issue we are going through, but I am not giving up,” concluded Collins.

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