Participation decline at Zion Christian dictates move to eight-man play

By Chris Yow
and Maurice Patton

‘Late in the game’ is an understatement for everyone involved, but Zion Christian confirmed its decision on Wednesday to cancel its nine-game 11-man football schedule in favor of an eight-man schedule.

In an e-mail obtained by SM-Tn Sports, ZCA Athletics Director Derek Boyd cited declining participation numbers and the safety of student-athletes as the sole reason for the move.

First-year coach Jeff Jordan confirmed his team was down to no more than 14 players.

“I realize that the timing of this decision now creates issues related to your schedule and for that I sincerely apologize,” Boyd wrote in the email. “We worked hard to get our numbers up so we could have an 11-man season, but in the end our efforts did not produce enough players.”

The Eagles announced the move in all other sports to the Tennessee State Independent Athletic Association in May. The TSIAA reached out to ZCA after Riverside Christian (Fayetteville) dropped its program due to a participation issue.

With a ready-made schedule, the ZCA administration decided to assume Riverside’s schedule and play eight-man football in 2021.

For the Eagles’ nine TSSAA opponents, those teams are now a game short on their schedules.

“That is unfortunate,” Summertown coach Dakota Crews said. “We knew they were talking about it, back when they first (moved to TSIAA), but they decided to go through with 11-man. I think they thought (staying) would draw some numbers.

“If that’s what they’ve got to do, I respect it. I hate it for our kids. Everybody’s schedule is pretty well done. If we can find a game, we’ll try to find a game (for Sept. 24). But I understand where they’re coming from.”

Richland, First Assembly Christian, Grundy County and Wayne County are now out of a home game, and without a replacement game will likely lose the revenue that would come along with the game. Each contract carries a $2,000 cancellation clause, meaning Zion Christian could be on the hook for up to $18,000.

“We don’t have any choice. We lost home games last year due to COVID. We can’t afford to lose any more,” Richland coach Nick Patterson said. “I hate it for them and their program. I hate it for us, too.

“You don’t want to lose a home game, an early game (Aug. 27). It’s a little late in the game to be calling it. But we’ll adjust.”

Jordan said he is close friends with at least one other eight-man coach in the state, and will get at least some guidance on the nuances of the game.

“I have watched some of the games online,” Jordan said. “I have a pretty good relationship with (Providence Christian coach) Lebron Ferguson. He told me he would help me any way possible to help me figure out the game.

“I’ve got six practices to figure it out.”

Zion Christian 2021 Football Schedule
Aug. 14 @ South Haven Christian School
Aug. 20 vs. Franklin Classical School
Aug. 27 vs. Providence Christian
Sept. 10 vs. Franklin Christian Academy
Sept. 17 @ Lighthouse Christian
Oct. 1 @ Lancaster Christian School
Oct. 15 @ Grace Baptist

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