Coach Kurt Simon is kicking off his 23rd season at the helm for Carmi White County football, and he says he’s got the smallest squad ever, with just 32 total student athletes for varsity. Of those 32, more than half are sophomores or freshmen, and only 11 of them total can even drive. The Bulldogs are made up of four Seniors, six Juniors, and 11 each, sophomores and freshmen.
On the bright side, Coach says his team has been easy to coach and easy to motivate, and he’s enjoying his time despite the smaller numbers. Simon’s coaching staff is made up entirely of past players in Clinton Wolff, Kevin Wolff, Marc Stendeback, Justice Stubblefield, Matt Sneed, and Bart King.
Much of Simon’s question and answer session during Thursday’s Kiwanis presentation was centered around the impending change from conference to District play. The 2021 season could see the Bulldogs having to travel to Sparta and Red Bud to play opponents that have similar enrollment sizes. As it is now, the current longest trek CWCHS makes is to Chester every other year, which takes about two hours and 20 minutes. Simon says the IHSA is moving to District play to effectively end the “conference jumping” which has been happening due to the IHSA rule that teams had to have five wins to qualify for postseason.
When asked about the smaller number of players, Simon reminded folks that he doesn’t chase kids down and try to get them to play, saying when he first got here and did that, those kids that didn’t have a passion to play were often responsible for key mistakes in close games. He says it’s not worth it to recruit, because the kids have to want to put the time in that’s necessary for them to be good or improve. This year’s team may remind some older Bulldogs fans of the 1962 squad, affectionately remembered as the “Mighty Mites.” With only 14 players total on that year’s football team, the Bulldogs managed to lose only a single game and were co-champions of the conference.
Notwithstanding the shortage of players, the Bulldogs do have some experience back with the entire offensive backfield, save for Quarterback returning. Simon says he used to say that how many sophomores you have starting for you would be a good indicator for how many games you’d lose. Since the trend started of smaller rosters, he says that’s no longer part of his way of thinking. And it’s a good thing, as he says most likely, there will be at least three sophomores and a freshman starting.
The trend is smaller teams with less kids participating, and out of that, Illinois has launched six and eight man football. Simon says there were six teams last year with eight man football and there will be 16 this year. He said within the next decade, he expects there will be a state championship for it, as smaller schools continue to pick it up, or bigger schools get smaller.
Carmi White County opens the season with a game on the road at Vienna, with the rare Saturday afternoon game on August 31. Because Vienna doesn’t have lights on their football field, the host Eagles are forced to play home games on Saturday afternoons. Simon’s biggest concern is playing that game on a hot Saturday afternoon, and it being the first real physical action his kids will see. He’s hoping their conditioning will help out, and that the kids’ nerves don’t wear them out too early, with the heat and potential cramping among his biggest concerns.
The coach believes Fairfield is still head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, saying they just are on a great run having a lot of athletic kids at their disposal. Not far behind them, he thinks Sesser-Valer/Waltonville/Woodlawn could be a player, and Chester could challenge for conference supremacy. He believes his Bulldogs are among teams in the second tier, along with Eldorado, Johnston City and Hamilton County, who he says is improving, thanks in no small part due to their Jr. Pro program getting off the ground. Rounding out the Black Diamond this year, Simon is expecting Vienna and CZR (Christopher/Zeigler/Royalton), both with new coaches, to struggle the most.
In club business Thursday, Eric Rahlfs won the opportunity to try and select the orange ball for the $49 jackpot, but grabbed a white golf ball, meaning the pot will continue to grow at next week’s meeting. Steve Winkleman won one of the last remaining $10 Hucks gift cards. Adam Winkleman said there were already seven, and potentially a few more signed up for the Marching Band competition as part of the Corn Days Celebration. Corn Days is only about 56 days away (from Friday, August 16), and the festival’s headline entertainment is set to be announced within the next week. In good news offerings, State’s Attorney and Kiwanis member Denton Aud announced the birth of his fourth child, a daughter, Hosanna Patricia.
Next week’s Carmi Kiwanis meeting at noon will feature information from Jessica Cook, representing Joyner Therapy Services in Carmi. To join or learn more about Carmi Kiwanis, talk to Katelyne Wolff, the club’s president. She works at First Bank.
Submitted by JC Tinsley, WROY/WRUL radio