Following the recommendation of the Choteau High School football coaches, the Choteau school board on Oct. 11 voted to join a proposed new Class B/C eight-man football league next fall.

The Montana High School Association in September asked Class B and C schools to decide this fall whether they would switch to the proposed new eight-man football league for Class B and C schools with enrollments of 65 to 130.

CHS head coach Lucas Gunderson and assistant coach Dan Yeager, at the meeting, told the school board that all four coaches unanimously support moving into the Class B/C division and learning eight-man football rather than the 11-man football that CHS has played since it became a Class B school.

Gunderson said that Choteau’s high school program started the year with 28 boys, of whom 18 were underclassmen. With season-ending injuries, the team now has only 23 players, had to cancel the junior varsity season and would have to start four freshmen in the remaining two varsity games.

Three years ago, there were only 21 boys out and, again, no junior varsity program.

Future projections for participation in football, drawn up by grades seven through 12 Principal David Jamison, indicate that turnout for 2017 would be 27 boys and for 2018 would be 30 boys.

“I think these numbers tonight are a best-case scenario,” Gunderson said. “The problem we see looking forward is that at some point, we’re going to have to go eight-man.”

Gunderson said making this change now will allow the coaches to begin establishing the eight-man program here while kids are still enthusiastic about football, despite this season’s hardships.

“For the safety of the kids, for looking down the road and wanting to be here 20 years from now, we want to build a program,” he said. “The best scenario is to drop to eight-man now and not wait two years.”

Switching to eight-man next fall would allow CHS to field a solid varsity and junior varsity program and give younger kids they experience they need to be successful when they play varsity, Gunderson said.

Yeager said from a safety standpoint, it’s not good to put players into positions they haven’t practiced, but with injuries, that’s what Choteau has had to do.

Gunderson also told the board that the coaches polled the freshmen, sophomore and junior players about the switch. Two were not sure they’d want to play eight-man and the others were noncommittal.

He also said he briefed parents and found they had two main concerns: whether there would be a loss of playing time with three fewer positions and whether college scouts would show any interest in Class B/C eight-man teams.

Gunderson said he told the parents that kids would have to work hard to get starting positions, but that extra effort would benefit the program. He also said that many Class C football players statewide have been signed at Montana’s colleges and universities.

CHS will have to change the configuration of its football field to meet eight-man regulations. An eight-man field is 40 yards wide and 80 yards long while the 11-man field is 50 yards wide and 100 yards long.

At the board’s September meeting, Jamison said the MHSA was proposing that Class C schools with an enrollment of 65 or fewer would all play six-man football. Class B and C schools with enrollments of 65 to 130 would play in a B/C eight-man football league. Class B schools with enrollments of 131 or higher would stay in an 11-man football league.

Jamison said there are also ranges in which schools could petition to go to another class or stay in an existing class. He said the change to Class B/C would be for football only, and Choteau would stay at Class B for the other sports.

However, he told the board that MHSA is also proposing in November to change the school enrollment numbers that determine whether a school is Class AA, A, B or C.

MHSA is proposing to change Class C from 119 and lower to 107 and lower; Class B from 120-339 to 108-306; Class A from 340-825 to 307-778; and Class AA from 826 or higher to 779 or higher.

CHS has 124 students now, and the enrollment projects are for 120 in 2017, 128 in 2018, 113 in 2019, 105 in 2020 and 102 in 2021, Jamison said, meaning that at some point, CHS will likely be classified as C rather than B.

Superintendent Chuck Gameon told the board that the administration originally thought the school board had until November to decide, but MHSA in an email on Oct. 13 told the district it wanted a decision this month.

Board member Mark Henderson said the options would be to go with the eight-man B/C league or petition to stay in the 11-man league.

Jamison said, however, that as long as Choteau’s enrollment was within 10 percent below 130 (117 students), Choteau could stay in the 11-man league. In the future, if Choteau’s enrollment grew, he said, the school could return to 11-man football.

Board member Jolene Bowers said Choteau shouldn’t wait too long to drop to the eight-man league and risk losing the program altogether.

Jamison said his polling of kids in sixth through 12th grade showed a small majority in favor of going to the eight-man league, a few who wanted to stay at 11-man and the rest who said they just wanted to play football.

Jamison also told the board that the Northern C Division has its own junior high league for football, and making this change could decrease travel for both high school and junior high football programs.

In other action, the board discussed and then tabled a proposal from Gameon to establish a community service graduation requirement for CHS students.

Gameon provided the board with examples from other schools that have community service graduation requirements. How many hours of community service is required, when those hours are done, and in what context, varied among the schools.

In general terms, Gameon said he envisions setting a number of hours for students to attain throughout their high school career. The students would document the hours in a service log and would have the person supervising the service sign off on the hours. They would then turn their service log into the administration for approval.

He said the school would work with students to make sure that they all met the requirement so that no one would fail to graduate because he or she didn’t complete the required hours.

After some discussion on the pros and cons of such a requirement, the board tabled any action and told Gameon to bring a specific written proposal back for its consideration next month.

Gameon said the impetus for the community service requirement has come from the District Leadership Team and he would meet with the team to develop a written proposal for the board to consider.

In other action, the board:

•Heard that a hot water heater for the high school locker rooms has been replaced with a vertical unit and LED bulbs are being installed in the elementary hallways.

•Heard that the high school is considering converting the aerobics room in the multipurpose building into a concessions stand for football and track events.

•Heard that the district is still advertising for a concessions manager, and high school assistant wrestling and junior high head and assistant wrestling coaches.

•Heard that the high school is working to bring in a Rachel’s Challenge Foundation speaker and country western singer Jason DeShaw for two school assemblies. The Rachel’s Challenge program, which will cost $4,800 (including $2,000 donated by Booster Club) is set for Nov. 15. The DeShaw program, which would focus on mental health issues, is tentatively set for November as well though a date has not yet been finalized. The Center for Mental Health would cover the costs of the DeShaw program.

•Heard that First Security Bank (which is merging with Teton Banks this month) will offer Choteau Bulldog debit cards and will donate $5 for each card account opened to the school, starting in November.

•Heard that the enrollment count, taken on Oct. 2, was 170 in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade; 57 in junior high; and 124 in high school.

•Accepted the resignation of Randy Gramm as the assistant high school track coach.

•Hired Christi Henderson, the only applicant, as a full-time elementary special education aide at a starting wage of $9.50 an hour, which recognizes her three years of experience at CES. (Her husband, Mark Henderson, abstained from this vote.)

•Approved the junior and high school athletic handbook with three changes. On Wednesday, which is designated family night, the coaches must stop practice by 6 p.m. (rather than 6:30 p.m.) so that students are cleared from the school by 6:15 p.m. The district will reimburse coaches $200 (rather than $150) for the cost of attending the Montana Coaches Association clinic. The athletic directors will assist with both the high school volleyball preseason tournament and the Choteau Classic wrestling tournament, when previously they were not required to do so.