Its autumn and for high school that means homecoming. This annual celebration of school spirit goes back more than 100 years, and it all revolves around a football game. Footballs popularity is declining nationwide, 6.6% in the last decade according to The Washington Post. Potter Valley is one of five Mendocino county schools without a team this year. Coach Paul Monlux says there weren’t enough students interested.
In recent years there has been a lot of media attention about negative long term effects of concussions on the brain. The New York Times Reports that the National Football League has spent over 100 million dollars to fund medical research and safer equipment. It might seem obvious that this would result in the decline of high school football, but as I spoke to parents, coaches, principals, and students, I discovered the answer is much more complicated. Monlux says parents often leave the choice up to the students.
All of these schools are seeing declining enrollment and that means fewer students playing sports-Potter Valley-only has 66 students, but other sports are thriving. Many of my conversations about football quickly turned into conversations about what’s happening in these communities. The housing shortage affects enrollment, rural economies are changing resulting in fewer jobs, immigrant populations with different athletic traditions are growing, and the latest research on concussions has led to new safety regulations. Overall, I found the decline of football in Mendocino County to be a reflection of wider cultural changes.
Two schools do plan to bring back football next year, but regardless of what happens the tradition of homecoming isn’t going anywhere. Potter Valley soccer coach Ben Calvert says homecoming isn’t really about football it’s about celebrating the school and the community.
He says the whether its football or soccer the community wants an event, so the school will work with what it’s got to bring them one.