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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Maple Grove Elects 8-Man Football, Joins Frewsburg

It was a gut-wrenching decision but one that Maple Grove head coach Justin Hanft had to make. On Wednesday evening the 2nd year head coach confirmed to WNY Athletics that the Red Dragons did not have enough players for an 11-man team and that they have elected to play 8-man, effective immediately.

The Post-Journal was the first to break the story.

“We had 19 players show up Monday,” Hanft said. “That was when I knew we might be in trouble of fielding a team.” Hanft held a heart to heart session earlier in the day with his players and broke the news about the move to 8-man. “The seniors took it the hardest. We have to do what’s best for the kids. League rules state that 16 kids must be healthy and academically eligible for each game. Unfortunately, none of us have a crystal ball. This is a tough game with tough kids, you have injuries. Can’t take the chance of not having enough players for games and then have to forfeit, you let everyone down in that respect.”

Maple Grove pondered a merger last winter when it appeared their numbers could be low. “We had 24 sign up at that time. So, we shelved the merger idea and went ahead with our original plans and felt good about having enough for a team,” Hanft said.

Last spring when the schedules were first posted Frewsburg was the only team committed to an 8-man schedule. The Bears would play teams from Section V (Rochester). Low and behold however Maple Grove was penciled in as a week 8 opponent, which raised a few eyebrows within local football circles.

“It’s a sign of things to come,” local high school football guru Dick Gallagher said after the schedule was released, adding “I wonder who will be next.”

We have our answer.

The Red Dragons have a storied program. Just two years ago Curt Fischer, who spent 25 years there as head coach, left due to infighting with school officials. Fischer guided Maple Grove to nine Section VI titles and two state championships (1998 and 2008).

Hanft replaced Fischer last season and is a former Red Dragon himself and also played college football.

What the defining issue is as to the decline in numbers at Maple Grove is anybody’s guess. Hanft is a solid guy, very detail oriented and was the right guy for the job. WNY Athletics insiders originally had them ranked as one of the top teams in Class D along with returning state champion CSP.

Hanft told us that Frewsburg dropped the week 8 meeting and elected to take on another true 8-man team. How the schedule will ultimately play out will be decided in the coming days. Hanft assumes they will see Frewsburg after all.

Section VI football chairman Ken Stoldt told us that he would be working on a new schedule for Maple Grove right away.

There are rumors across the state that more teams could elect to go to an 8-man league by the end of the week due to low numbers.

“It was a tough day for all of us,” Hanft said. “We all want to play an 11-man game. That is who we are. We will embrace the 8-man game this season and go out and give it everything we have.

Hanft did say that his staff will go to work in the off-season and explore a return to 11-man with all options on the table including a merger with another area high school.

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