Camas County High School Athletic Director Randy Jewett has long roots with the sport of high school football in Fairfield.
His father played football on the Camas Prairie. Jewett himself, a 1978 Musher graduate, made All-State in 1977 when Camas County won a state football championship. And Jewett’s son played football for his father from 2004 to 20007.
Jewett coached at Camas County for 16 seasons with an 88-64 record. His teams played with a great deal of emotion and never quit until the clock ticked down to the game’s end.
He retired from coaching in 2010 and handed the reins to young Jason Ellingson. Not surprisingly, given his commitment and love of the sport, Jewett stayed on to help coach as an assistant. It’s a small school. All hands are needed.
A couple of years ago, Jewett and Ellingson looked out over their athletes at a Musher practice and came to a discouraging conclusion. Jewett said, “Jason and I looked across the field at the boys and decided that we just didn’t have enough.”
He added, “At that point we had 18 boys in the entire school, and 13 were out for football. In the past five years we’ve gone from having 70 students in the school, grades 9-12, down to just 38 in the school.
“When my son J.D. was a freshman in 2004, we were in a pretty good five-year run with the football team. At that point we had 30 boys suited up for the team. Back then, we maintained three teams and had seven junior varsity games.”
Camas County elected to return to having a varsity schedule this past fall, but it wasn’t easy. Jewett said, “This year we started with 13 players. By the last game when we got beat 60-0 by Dietrich, we had eight healthy guys. It’s hard to encourage kids to come back and play football the next year when you get beat like that.”
Jewett said Camas didn’t want to return to playing a junior varsity schedule.
So he made the big leap.
“We saw the handwriting on the wall,” he said. Famously, The Associated Press quoted Jewett in an Oct. 22 article, “Camas football is going to end over my dead body.”
Camas County, with the encouragement of eastern Idaho schools Clark County of Dubois and Leadore who floated a similar proposal in 2010, approached the Idaho High School Activities Association with a proposal to endorse six-man football in the Gem State.
And, at its Dec. 4 board meeting in Boise, the governing body of Idaho high school athletics voted unanimously to approve a three-year pilot program for six-man football beginning in fall 2013.
The IHSAA stipulated that the program will be reviewed each year, and declined to sponsor a sanctioned six-man football playoff. Participating schools will create their own schedules. Players will be covered under IHSAA insurance.
Jewett felt it was a small victory for football at tiny schools. He immediately started to contact interested schools and, with coach Ellingson, learn more about the rules of six-man football. Montana has sponsored the sport for 30 years and has more than 30 teams.
“There are some fun rules with six-man,” Jewett said. “It spreads the field, kind of schoolyard ball with more kicking, but it’s still football.”
Carey High School Athletic Director Lee Cook summed up the reason for the change, “All the little schools in Idaho are getting smaller because of the demographics of agriculture.”
But Cook said he worried that the addition of six-man football might ultimately result in altered classifications based on new enrollment numbers.
The IHSAA has sanctioned eight-man football in State 1A Division 2 (schools with student populations 99-and-below) and 1A Division 1 (100-159 students in grades 9-12) since 2004. There was only one IHSAA eight-man classification from 1984 to 2003.
Cook said, “The IHSAA would never entertain having three classifications in 1A football. So my No. 1 question is what their thinking will be on student numbers if they decide to sanction six-man football.
“The IHSAA has already provided a way to help smaller schools with cooperative agreements and allowing our players to compete in six quarters a day. I just worry that six-man football will cause them to get rid of Division 2 entirely somewhere down the line.”
Sawtooth Conference creates East-West divisions for 2013
The Sawtooth Conference eight-man football league for Idaho 1A Division 2 schools is composed of small schools from District 4 (Magic Valley), District 5 (Pocatello area) and District 6 (Idaho Falls area). During its Nov. 19 post-season meeting of coaches and athletic directors, the Sawtooth Conference changed from its 12-team North-South alignment used in 2012 to a new 11-team East-West alignment for 2013.
According to Carey Athletic Director Lee Cook, the changes were prompted because of interest from Fairfield’s Camas County High School and Clark County of Dubois to play six-man football next fall, and the interest of Calvary Chapel of Idaho Falls to join the eight-man league. Cook said the alignment will reduce travel expense and allow for better geographic situations.
The new alignment requires a playoff situation for eight of the 11 qualifying teams in the last week (9th week) of the 2013 regular season. The Sawtooth playoff games next Nov. 1 will determine the seedings for the Idaho High School Activities Association’s eight-team State 1A Division 2 tournament starting with its quarterfinals Nov. 8-9, 2013. During its Dec. 4 board meeting in Boise, the IHSAA approved the first reading of the Sawtooth Conference’s proposed qualifying system for the 2013 state finals that sends four of the 11 Sawtooth teams into the eight-team state quarterfinals. The board is expected to take a final vote on the proposed qualifying system in January.
Here are the Sawtooth Conference’s final standings from 2012, and the East-West alignment for 2013:
2012 final standings
Sawtooth Conference North
1—Dietrich 9-1 (5-0 league)
2—Carey 7-3 (4-1)
3—Clark County 6-3 (3-2)
4—Mackay 4-5 (2-3)
5—Richfield 1-6 (1-4)
6—Camas County 3-5 (0-5)
Sawtooth Conference South
1—Lighthouse Christian 9-3 (5-0)
2—Castleford 7-3 (4-1)
3—Rockland 4-4 (3-2)
4—North Gem 2-6 (2-3)
5—Sho-Ban 1-6 (1-4)
6—Murtaugh 1-7 (0-5)
2013 North-South alignment
Sawtooth West—Carey, Dietrich, Castleford, Richfield, Lighthouse Christian and Murtaugh.
Sawtooth East—Mackay, Calvary Chapel, North Gem, Rockland and Sho-Ban.
Conference playoff match-ups Nov. 1 (based on final season standings):
No. 1 East vs. No. 4 West
No. 2 East vs. No. 3 West
No. 4 East vs. No. 1 West
No. 3 East vs. No. 2 West
Carey’s 2013 schedule (* league games)
Aug. 30 (Away)Notus
Sept. 6 (Home)North Gem
Sept. 13 (Away)Rockland
Sept. 20 (Away)Murtaugh*
Sept. 27 (Home)Dietrich*
Oct. 11 (Home)Castleford*
Oct. 18 (Away)Lighthouse Christian*
Oct. 25 (Home)Richfield*