After its third straight trip to the playoffs in eight-man football, Neligh-Oakdale will not have a chance at a fourth straight next year as the team becomes ineligible due to having too many students in grades nine through 11.
Neligh-Oakdale’s options were moving up to 11 man and being eligible for the playoffs, although not guaranteed the a spot in the 16-team bracket, or to play 8 man and not be eligible for the post-season.
For those in the very competitive junior class, it was a tough decision to hear but one that didn’t shock Angie Belitz, whose son Tyson is a receiver for the Warriors.
“I guess I’m not surprised they chose to stay eight-man and probably for the safety of our kids, it’s probably the best decision. It’s just heartbreaking there’s not that opportunity to go four years in a row for the particular class,” she said. “I’m behind the administration with that decision. They’ll have to find some creative ways to motivate the kids, and you know, maybe district champs, 8-0 season, maybe they can pull it off that way.”
Although Neligh-Oakdale has 84 students in ninth through 11th grade, they have a small football team. Neligh-Oakdale suited up just 16 players in its final game last week and spent many practices not being able to scrimmage due to low numbers.
Principal George Loofe told the board Monday said safety is a concern for the players and didn’t want to put them in a situation they weren’t prepared for.
“I’m not being negative here, but Neligh has had multiple black eyes for the past year or so,” he said. “To me, what’s going to be a worse black eye for us - electing to play down in eight-man football or to play 11-man and half way through the season, have to forfeit the rest of your games because of injuries?"