For five AMA football players, their season came to an abrupt end Tuesday afternoon. A week after the Motherlode Valley Football League (MVFL) voted to allow AMA varsity players to join the junior varsity squad, another vote was made to reverse that decision.
The AMA (Angels Camp, Murphys, Arnold) varsity squad only had nine members and could not field an entire team. Wanting to give those kids an opportunity to play, league representatives voted in favor in allowing them to join the JV squad. But after complaints from parents and pressure from outside sources, there will be no football for the five eighth grade AMA players.
When the original motion was put on the table to allow AMA’s varsity players, which included the five eighth graders, to join the JV team, the Tuolumne Bear’s league representative Michael Rodgers had mixed feelings about it.
“Originally, when this was first brought up, I expressed that it was a safety issue,” Rodgers said. “We (youth football) are all under attack, we all know that. There are people who would like us to not be doing this and I think it’s (football) good for the kids. But you get motions and you get into, ‘I want kids to play football.’ So, then it’s playing on that. Are we going to say that these kids can play football or not?”
Although he was relieved that the varsity players would still get to play football, AMA league representative Nic Valente knew that there’d be some who wouldn't agree with the decision. He knew that regardless of the outcome, there’d always be remarks surrounding the team having older players on it.
“The minute it was approved, you start to get some foresight and I had a feeling that we were always going to have a cloud over the team,” Valente said. “If you did win, it’d be because you have older kids. Even if a kid from another team got hurt, regardless of who hit him or how he got hurt, it would be used against us because of the kids we have playing.”
After Saturday’s jamboree at Argonaut High School in Jackson, an 8-4 vote was made on Sunday to not allow the AMA eighth graders to play on the JV squad. For parent Joe Kelly, telling his 12-year old, Markus, that he would not be playing football during his eighth grade year was a conversation he didn’t relish.
“I didn’t want to tell him anything until I found out for sure,” Kelly said. “We told him Sunday morning and he took it pretty hard. Football is his sport and he was pretty emotional about it. It’s super frustrating. All those adults in that room who are making those votes, they aren’t here talking to the 12-year-old kid who doesn't get to play football. That’s rough. It’s almost where coach's egos are more important than kids playing football.”
Valente tried one more Hail Mary and came up with an idea he hoped would please the rest of the league. All varsity players would have special stickers on their helmets and only two would be allowed on the field at one time, which includes both offense and defense. And aside from kicking a field goal or a point after touchdown, no varsity player could play on special teams. The proposal was voted down 7-5.
“I’m not angry at the league at all, “Valente said. “I understand their take and their view on it. I’m mad at the situation and not the people.”
Rodgers added, “We don’t want to force AMA into not having a football program, it’s just the situation that we are in. They just don’t have the players out there, for whatever reason that may be.”
While the five eighth graders will not be able to play, the rest of the varsity players who are not in eighth grade and who are of the age, will be allowed to stay on the JV team. For Rodgers, the age gap is something that would have been too much to overlook.
“We can’t have 14-year old kids playing against 11-year old kids,” Rodgers said. “Regardless of if they are a first-year kid or a big softy, I don’t care. A 14-year old softy is still smarter, stronger and faster than an 11-year old. It’s a huge jump and one year makes a huge difference and when you add three years, it becomes a safety thing.”
Although AMA will not field a 2019 Jr. Novice or varsity squad, Valente remains optimistic about the current novice and JV team.
“We are only going to have two teams, and I think they can and will perform pretty well,” Valente said. “I think they’ll win some games and look pretty good at the end of the season. It’s a bummer though that those five kids won't be able to play because they came up through the program.”
The eighth grade varsity players have been reimbursed their fees to play and are also allowed to play for another MVFL team if they desire. As for Kelly, he knows that his son will one day once again wear a Bullfrog football uniform, but it won’t be for AMA.
“I can’t speak for anyone else’s kid, but my son will play in high school,” he said.