PARKERSBURG - VanDevender Middle School's football program closed only a week after the start of the season due to a lack of participation.
Principal Steve Taylor said only seven students signed up for the program before the start of school, not enough to field a team during the season.
"We were concerned over the summer with our football program because we had very few kids coming to conditioning and weightlifting," he said. "When practice started we had about seven kids. Sometimes we only had five kids and sometimes we had nine, but many of those didn't have their physicals completed. We just didn't have the numbers."
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission requires a certain number of practice days before a team is allowed to take the field.
"Had we waiting until the start of school and tried to recruit, they would have missed three football games," Taylor said. "I just didn't think that was very fair to the kids who were out there practicing every day."
Taylor said the decision was made to cancel this year's season.
"We are going to try to fill a team next year," he said.
Taylor added the school is working with a student to allow him to transfer to Hamilton Middle School to play there. The SSAC allows for such transfers in cases where a school is unable to offer a sport.
The decision to shut down the program followed several weeks of debate on the hiring of a new coach for the program, but officials say the two events are unrelated.
"That was one of the questions I had too," said Mike Winland, director of secondary schools for Wood County Schools. "I asked, 'did this have anything to do with our coaching situation?' and the answer was, it did not."
Former Vandy head football coach Romel "Boo" Henderson spoke to the Wood County Board of Education in July, saying he was being forced out of the program he helped build because of his status as a lay coach. State law gives preference to school system employees over non-employees when hiring for coaching positions.
Since Henderson does not work for the school system, he was bumped from the position when a teacher applied.
In an emergency meeting July 28 the board hired Clint Spencer, a teacher at the school, as head coach for the program.
Henderson later was hired as an unpaid assistant coach.
Winland said he believed those hires had no impact on the program being canceled.
"Based on all of the information I have received, I believe that is not the case," he said.
Winland said though the district does occasionally see sports programs close temporarily due to lack of participation, he believes this was the only case so far this year.
"It hasn't been common in Wood County, though we have been very close to that several times," he said. "Something you have to remember, VanDevender has the smallest population of any of our middle schools. They are running on average an enrollment between 300-400 students, where as our next smallest school has more than 500 students."
Taylor said with numerous sports being offered and a relatively small enrollment, it is a situation the school often encounters.
"Several years ago we had a team but we had to cancel games because our numbers dipped down where we didn't have enough to play due to injuries," he said. "We are always right on the edge of being able to play. It is just something where sometimes we don't have the numbers to field a team."