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— As a former high school football stand

out at Little Rock McClellan, Bobby King has a great

understanding of how special high school football is.

That's why Thursday was a hard day for King.

King, the athletics director and high school principal

at Decatur, canceled the Bulldogs' varsity football sea

son, citing a lack of participation.

The Bulldogs opened fall practice on Aug. 3 with three

players present. The next day only five showed up.

Participation peaked at seven and King said Monday he'd

give the program until Wednesday afternoon to find

enough players.

The Bulldogs only had five players show up for

Wednesday's practice. King then went to Decatur

Superintendent Leroy Ortman, who told King to go

ahead and "make the call." "It was a tough call, but I think we've done just about

everything we can do other than going house by house

and taking the kids by the hand," King said. "But then if

they don't want to be out there, what kind of program are

you going to have if you've got a bunch of kids that did

n't want to be out there other than to have a team? I felt

like the kids that wanted to play were there. The rest of

them really didn't want to play for one reason or anoth

er." Decatur was also without high school football in 2003,

when the program was also suspended because of a lack

of participation prompted by rumors of school consoli

dation.

Financial distress nearly caused the district to close in

2008 and also prompted several students to transfer out

of the district. The state Board of Education stepped in

and gave the school a year to get its finances in order

under newly-appointed Superintendent Ortman and the

2008 football season was played out.

Decatur finished 1-8 with 19 players on the roster. The

victory came against winless Western Yell County 37-34

in double-overtime, breaking a 16-game losing streak.

The Bulldogs began summer workouts in June with

less than 10 players, but coach Bill Brockert was opti

mistic enough players would be found to field a team.

Brockert could not be reached for comment on

Thursday.

Brockert said last week player eligibility and students

leaving the district factored into the low numbers. He

said more than half of the boys in the school's sopho

more class were academically ineligible.

"There's a lot of factors," King said Thursday. "You can

always speculate from one factor to the next." King, who played at the University of Arkansas for

three years and finished his college career at

Northeastern (Okla.) State University said times have

changed since he played and coached.

"When I was playing ball you were there," said King,

who coached at Russellville and North Pulaski before

getting into school administration. "You wanted to play.

You knew what it was going to take. And you were there

to play sports. But times have changed. There's different

priorities now.

"I don't know what's happened with the kids up here.

With the hits we've had to take the last five or six years

with Decatur possibly being closed or annexed or con

solidated, we've had a lot of parents that decided to take

their kids to other schools. When you do that you get

your numbers down. It's just hard to bounce back from

it. Decatur's been fighting this for the last 10 years.

"(Thursday) was a hard day for me." King said he notified the Arkansas Activities

Association, the chair of the 4-2A Conference and the

director of the officials' association of Decatur's decision

to suspend its football season.

According to AAA executive director Lance Taylor,

four schools have canceled football this season: Decatur

and conference foe Hartford, East Poinsett County and

Hector.

King said the Decatur program will continue to have

offseason workouts with the intention of bringing varsi

ty football back in the fall of 2010.

As of Thursday, King said Decatur was still planning

on having a junior-high season though only 10 players

were present for Thursday's practice.

King said the district should be able to wait until

school starts Aug. 19 to make a decision on the junior

high team, which had more than 20 players signed up to

play, according to junior high head coach Stanley Ellis.

Sports, Pages 6 on 08/19/2009

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