The Federal Hocking Lancers began the season with a monumental victory, scoring a dramatic 28-20 win at Hundred.
The Lancers had ups and downs along the way under first-year head coach Jeff Ditty, but the season’s end has come quicker than anyone wanted.
Administrators at Federal Hocking High School announced on Monday that the final four games of the Lancers’ football season have been cancelled.
The Lancers were down to 13 healthy players, and it was determined to be in the best interest for the student athletes to not continue the season.
“As of today, October 7, 2019, due to the safety and security of all players, Federal Hocking has decided to not play the remaining four games on our varsity football schedule,” the school posted on its Facebook page. “Safety has been, and always will be, a number one priority of all staff members, and the thirteen remaining players could not be put on the field without an extremely high risk of injury. We are so proud of the coaches and players who fought so hard this season. We know this is disappointing to all Lancer Football Fans, but we believe it is the right decision at this time. It was special to watch you play this season.”
Ditty, who just completed his first season as head coach, said Monday’s outcome was something that was discussed for the previous week.
Ditty said the program lost four more players leading up to last week’s preparation for the game against Belpre. The Lancers played the game — a 42-12 loss — with only 13 players.
“I had communicated my concern for the health and safety of the team at that point in time, with such low numbers, to the school,” Ditty said. “That started the discussion.”
With no reinforcements coming, the Lancers would have been forced to navigate the remaining four games with only those 13 players. After a weekend of discussion, the final decision was delivered to the team on Monday.
“We met with players,” Ditty said. “We met with parents, and the school, we all kind of met together. The decision basically was made that it was in the best interest of everybody involved. And that included not just us, that included our opponents.”
The Lancers were scheduled to play at Eastern on Friday. They were to host Trimble, then travel to Waterford and conclude the season at home against Miller.
“We were literally going to be in this week-to-week scenario,” Ditty said. “We weren’t sure how each week was going to play out. We thought it was the best move at that point to cancel the remaining portion of the season.”
Making matters more complicated was the fact that the Lancers were in the heart of the toughest portion of their schedule.
Belpre improved to 4-2 with last week’s win, and Eastern, Trimble and Waterford are a combined 14-4.
It concludes a roller-coaster season in terms of roster movement for Federal Hocking. The Lancers had around eight players join the roster after the win over Hundred. That victory snapped a 40-game losing streak for the program.
Federal Hocking’s roster was up to 24 players at one point. However, the eight players who joined the team all eventually opted to leave the program. Those losses, combined with the injuries that come with every football season, led to Monday’s decision.
Ditty talked about the core roster of around 15 to 16 players who had worked with him since he was hired April.
“They have really put all their work into it and have never left from day one,” Ditty said. “The effort and watching their improvement, not just in the weight room, but even on the football field, even in their work attitude was impressive in my minds. I know I can speak for the entire staff that we’re real proud about what they did.
“These same guys did what they had to do,” he continued. “Whether that was changing positions, handling the ball or staying in the game for all four quarters and not coming off the field. When I say not coming off the field, every game we played this year, the same 11 were on. There was one game we actually had subs, and they didn’t complain about it. They never once were thinking as individuals.”
There were positives for the Lancers even in the shortened season. They finished with 64 points scored, which was 14 more points than last season in three fewer games. Despite their low numbers, they scored 36 second-half points in the last two games against Wahama and Belpre.
“It was a complete team effort and I applaud the effort of these guys,” Ditty said. “It just so happens though that with the few that we had and the injuries that we received and then a few other adversary events, we just didn’t have enough to finish it out.”
It’s the second season in a row in which the Lancers weren’t able to get 10 games played. They canceled a week four game with Fort Frye last season due to a lack of heathy players, but were able to finish out the rest of the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division schedule.
Ditty indicated that the school will do everything in its power to make sure the Lancers have a football team next season.
“I haven’t heard the first stitch of it not being the primary goal,” Ditty said. “I know there is a lot of concern all the way around within the school and the community and really putting a step forward with this program again.”
Ditty was the Lancers third head coach in the last three seasons. He would have the opportunity to have a full offseason to recruit the hallways and work with returning players. The main objective will be to have more players out next season to help weather the storm of inevitable injuries that take a toll on any football team.
“No doubt one of our primary objectives is going to be to encourage participation and not just participating, but I think genuine interest all the way around,” Ditty said. “That’s going to be a primary goal of ours, starting in the short term.”
The Lancers are fielding a junior high team in 2019, so there is hope that an influx of younger players can come into the program in the next couple of seasons. Keeping those players engaged is a key for Ditty.
“I guess to look at it on a silver lining, we have some time to focus and assess what we really think our major challenges are,” Ditty said. “We’re not taking a break. We’re getting right back to work with trying to resolve some of these challenges.”
The Lancers have received support from surrounding communities. Trimble invited Federal Hocking athletes to share in their Senior Night in Glouster. The Lancers instead decided to still keep their Senior Night activities in Stewart on Nov. 1. There won’t be a football game, but there will still be a performance by the band and senior night presentations.
Then it will be back to work for Ditty and the Lancers, as they hope to return to the gridiron in 2020.
“Our goal is to put our football program forward and have the program stronger for next year,” Ditty said. “We have a number of things to consider, not just with the player involvement, but even just with how football is structured as a whole and run and operated within the district. Really looking at it as a program from top to bottom and making those adjustments where we need to make them.”