SEABROOK – Bladensburg High School will not participate in varsity football this fall season, becoming the first county high school of recent record to do so, county and school officials confirmed.
The decision was made due to low turnout to summer workouts and the safety of inexperienced players, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Coordinating Supervisor Earl Hawkins said on Sept. 1. New Athletic Director Jamie Cook confirmed that the decision was the “hardest decision in my adult life” but the junior varsity program will continue for the rest of this year.
According the Hawkins, the school had been struggling with having enough players to participate for some time. Last season, under first-year Head Coach Byron Westbrook, the Mustangs (2-8) had a 26-player roster with 12 senior players. According to the county athletics handbook, teams must have a minimum of 22 players 10 practice days before the start of the season.
At the start of training camp this year, 31 students registered to play but only 24 players were going to practices consistently, including 12 freshmen trying out the sport for the first time, Cook said. Robo-calls and emails were sent out to students and parents all summer, Hawkins reported.
“Bladensburg has done a lot to attract players but they just do not have the numbers in the building for various reasons,” Hawkins said. “They just do not have enough bodies or individuals or student-athletes interested in football. But their other sports programs have grown.”
Because of concerns for the new players’ safety, Bladensburg officials contacted county athletics the day before their season opener on Aug. 31 against Eleanor Roosevelt. Raiders Head Coach Thomas Green confirmed that their game against the Mustangs was cancelled at 1 p.m. on Sept.1, hours before kickoff.
“We did not want to do this,” Cook said. “We tried to prolong this as long as possible but you know how it is, sometimes you say ‘you think you can make it, you think you can make it’ but this time, the numbers did not pan out.”
Former Bladensburg Head Coach Lester Overton said via online messaging that there was no lack of interest by the student body during his tenure. When he inherited the program in 2014, only 26 players were on the team. By his last season with the Mustangs in 2016, the program had grown 94 players.
“It’s sad because bad decisions by grownups are hurting the kids,” Overton said.
Westbrook will continue to head the football program under its JV status, Cook said. Senior players that want to transfer in order to play for another school can file a request and athletics officials will take each situation on a “case-by-case basis,” Hawkins stated.
Bladensburg was scheduled to play eight teams from last year’s state playoffs. According to Hawkins, the scheduled games will not count as forfeits and all of their opponents will play only nine games this season.