2016-09-08 / Sports

Suttons Bay cancels football season

Early injuries, low enrollment lead to program’s shortest season in 47 years
By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

SUTTONS BAY senior Baylor Mikesell drags an Elk Rapids defender across the line of scrimmage during a second-half carry last Thursday.SUTTONS BAY senior Baylor Mikesell drags an Elk Rapids defender across the line of scrimmage during a second-half carry last Thursday.
Baylor Mikesell listened to the postgame pep talk with his hands on his head and his knees on the gridiron.

He was gassed.

Since his Pop Warner playing days, Mikesell has spent countless hours preparing for his senior season at Suttons Bay, whether it was in the weight room or on the field.

He never thought it’d end like this.

Mikesell, a two-way starter at running back and defensive back, saw his senior season go from bad to worse less than a week after the team’s 37-0 home loss to Elk Rapids last Thursday. Safety concerns and a lack of healthy players have led to a decision to cancel what’s left of the 2016 season.

“It’s a disappointment for our community,” Suttons Bay Athletic Director Doug Periard said Wednesday morning. “We had an outpouring of community support to make things work. It’s just unfortunate it turned out this way for our players and our opponents.”


ELK RAPIDS quarterback Alec Trautman (No. 10) escapes the clutches of Suttons Bay lineman Blaise Mork and dashes toward the goal line during the second quarter of last Thursday’s game. ELK RAPIDS quarterback Alec Trautman (No. 10) escapes the clutches of Suttons Bay lineman Blaise Mork and dashes toward the goal line during the second quarter of last Thursday’s game. The team was down to 14 players on a sophomore-heavy roster, and two of those 14 players are banged up.

Periard had said on Friday that Suttons Bay would forfeit this week’s game against Frankfort but continue the season on a week-to-week basis.

“No one else was interested in coming out,” Periard said. “I could only guarantee that we’d have 11-12 kids.”

According to michigan-football.com, the last time Suttons Bay played fewer than six games was 1969. The Norse did not take the field that season.

Some have suggested Suttons Bay may be on the fast track to doing what Forest Area and Grand Traverse Academy did this season: transitioning to eight-man football.

“It’s been discussed,” said second-year coach and former Suttons Bay player Alex Kohler. “Lots of different things have been discussed. At this point, there’s lots of different discussions but there’s not definitive answers to anything. I think it’s great. It’s football, and it helps small schools continue to play the game they love. You do what you’ve got to do keep the football season alive for as many people as possible, but we’ve just talked about it amongst coaches. We’ll see.”

Kohler said the co-operative program, which is open to Northport and St. Mary, has had a pretty good turnout from Suttons Bay players considering the district’s enrollment.

As of Aug. 29, about 440 non-virtual students were slated to attend Suttons Bay this fall, although Periard said those numbers have since increased.

In comparison, the district was home to more than 1,000 students in 2004, the year Joe Trudeau led the program to its first state championship appearance.

The only other option to salvage the 2016 campaign was pulling up additional players from the JV team.

Periard said that was a bad idea.

“There comes a point where we know we’ve brought up the ones that are capable of competing at this level,” Periard said. “Otherwise, you’re putting them out there and you’re not going to have your running backs protected, etc. We’ve got those players up, so there comes a point where you’re not going to have your young guys compete against bigger seniors from another school.”

Kohler had already brought five sophomores up to varsity.

The JV team is left with about 21 players, maybe 23 if a pair of juniors decide to join the ranks.

“We’ll see if we can continue to work toward rebuilding the program,” Periard said. “Right now, we have about 30-some kids playing football, sixth through eighth grade.

“I’m confident going into the next few years because we’re averaging 10-11 kids per class playing football, but we’ll take a look and see if football remains as popular as it was.”

The night before Periard’s announcement, Mikesell was asked why he wants to get back out on the field.

“Losing and winning isn’t everything,” he said. “Playing football is fun. It’s just with our numbers and injuries, we don’t have enough people to sub in. The game goes downhill from there.”

Such was the case against visiting Elk Rapids last Thursday. The Norse, fresh off their 38-14 loss to East Jordan in Week 1, seemed to run out of gas in the first half while chasing Elks quarterback Alec Trautman.

Trautman was a one-man wrecking crew offensively. He rushed for 168 yards on 14 carries (12.0 average) and four touchdowns while completing 14 of 25 throws for 112 yards and one score through the air.

“They’re a great team with big guys,” Trautman said when asked how the Elks (1-1, 0-0 NMFL Legends) prepared for Suttons Bay (0-2, 0-0 NMFL Leaders). “They competed really hard, but we executed well tonight.”

The Elks, who finished 0-9 last year, pulled Trautman off with 9:02 remaining in the third quarter and did not score again. Elk Rapids was just as good defensively, limiting the Suttons Bay offense to 68 total yards.

GAME BALL GOES TO

Mikesell. He finished with 205 all-purpose yards — 183 total return yards, 12 rushing yards, 10 receiving yards on all three of the team’s receptions — while leading the team with 13 total tackles, including one for loss.

SILVER LINING

A handful of Suttons Bay players showed a lot of heart in the second half, especially Mikesell and senior quarterback Jack Pasche. Seniors were all over the field on both sides of the ball and appeared to play through every whistle.

“Their parents should be awfully proud of them. I’m awfully proud of them,” Kohler said.

TAKEAWAY

Teams shouldn’t compete with 14 players. It was a tough game for fans and parents to watch but, to their credit, the Norse didn’t quit.

“I can assure you one thing, that in 10 years there’s going to be some very happy employers with the dedication that these guys show,” Kohler said. “I know they’re going to be very successful in their lives as young men in the work force. These guys walk out here and do everything we ask them to do. They should be recognized as doers and not quitters. This is a great time for these young men to realize about life. There’s always going to be bumps in the road; it’s how you’re going to attack these bumps and smooth the path for yourself. It is not about whether you’re going to get knocked down but how you’re going to get back up.”

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