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Data shows football decline; NJ high school folds varsity team

PLAINSBORO, N.J. — Fewer kids are playing football than in the past. Cost, time, concussions and changing demographics are just some of the reasons why.

West-Windsor Plainsboro High School North in Plainsboro, NJ has been forced to dissolve its varsity football team.

"I’ve been playing since I was five," said Brian Murphy, a high school senior and quarterback for the team. He is one of only three seniors signed up to play this year.

"I'd always come to the North-South games, which is our town rivalry. All my friends would go," Murphy said.

West-Windsor Plainsboro High School North tried to merge teams with West-Windsor Plainsboro High School South, but the merger was denied by the NJSIAA. They make the rules and regulations for high school athletics.

Coaches and administrators have decided to consolidate players into one junior varsity team.

"You have kids matched up where you have a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old. The 14-year-old is like 150 lbs. and the 17-year-old is 250 lbs., and it could be a real safety issue," head coach Jeff Reilly said.

Administrators in the West-Windsor Plainsboro school district said they have spoken to at least three other New Jersey districts who are in a similar situation.

"We’re the first. And I don’t believe that by any stretch that we’re going to be the last, even particular to Mercer County," said Jon Dauber, principal of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.

Nationwide, high school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Pop Warner leagues have seen a 30 percent decline in participation in five years, according to data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. ​

"You’ve got any number of other sporting opportunities that kids are into, you’ve got kids who play one sport year-round, you’ve got population shift," Dauber said.

Dauber said that demographics, rather than health risks, have impacted West-Windsor-Plainsboro's declining numbers.

Sandy Johnson, whose son is a sophomore on the football team, agreed.

"I'm concerned when my kids play any sport," Johnson said. "I'm concerned when they go outside to play."

The district plans to rebuild their football program. They will focus on recruiting from their current student-population and they may also re-apply to the NJSIAA to combine teams with West-Windsor Plainsboro High School South.

"We’re fighting for the kids," Johnson said. "It’s all about letting these kids play the sport they love."