I wasn’t the biggest kid on the field but I always felt that I filled a position.
You don’t have to be terribly big to play 8-man football. In fact, you need to have enough speed to stay alive all four quarters. It’s not as fast as 6-man which can keep a center slim enough to catch a pass but still faster than 11-man. There is more open field to cover than you realize.
Newman Grove moved down to 8-man back in the 1980’s. As with many schools we no longer had enough students enrolled to fulfill the requirements by the NSAA to play at the higher level.
We always seemed to have more than enough kids to put together a team. At least more than most of the ones we played against. I pulled a team picture out from my sophomore year not too long ago and I counted about 40 kids out that year. I’m hearing a lot of 11-man schools are having a hard time finding half of that for some seasons now a days.
Each day after school we would put on our pads and walk down from the high school to the football practice field which was roughly two blocks away on the northeast part of town. Like most kids I hated practice but loved games. On Friday’s we would either go back down to the field for games or head out of town. Usually it was one of the towns on highway 91 which runs east to west in northeast Nebraska.
Believe it or not, our group was called the Cornhusker Conference. Not sure how we lucked out on that name.
Every school but one in the conference is now either co-oping with another school for sports or has fully consolidated. The conference has been gone for quite a few years now.
The entire town would turn out for games. Half the town would drive for your away ones. It was an event that would always unify everyone no matter how good or bad the team was that year.
I bring this up because many of these counties and the towns in these counties we are writing about are shrinking. Schools are either struggling or are no longer there at all. When this happens the kids that are there will either have to compete to play in a bigger pool of kids or not have enough to even put together a team.
When you take something away like sports you take away an opportunity for kids who would not usually get a chance to take part in a team effort. You learn a lot when you’re playing a sport with others. No matter how many are out to play.
Years ago it was easy to go out for a sport in the fall, winter, and spring. All within your own town’s borders. Now, many kids have to go a town or two over just to practice.
A lot of it is also the lack of interest from today’s generation in sports than from years ago. There are more than enough articles talking about the drop in sports across the state and country. I don’t understand that and that’s probably okay. This current generation will have something that will make their high school days special that their children won’t understand either.
Maybe high school sports is hitting a low point on a rollercoaster type cycle. For a few years you have a high participation rate and then it goes down where very few are going out.
Change is good. I’ve never looked at change as something to fear. But this change leaves large pieces of property unused in many of these small towns. An 80 to 100 yard chunk of grass where people once came together on chilly fall nights now sit quiet.
There’s one field right now that sit’s quiet on Friday nights in northeast Newman Grove. Will it ever see the unifying spectacle of high school football again?
So, on to the rest of Madison.
In this county lies the towns of Norfolk, Battle Creek, Madison, Meadow Grove, Tilden and Newman Grove. Well, one street in Newman Grove is in Platte County and and maybe half of Tilden is in Antelope County. There are little remnants of Enola and there is a rural schoolhouse that has been turned into a house where Kalamazoo once was.
Madison is the county seat an Norfolk is the largest city with roughly 24,000 people. The proper pronunciation of Norfolk is Nor’Fork. Anyone who pronounces it like they do in Virginia is out of their element and need to head back south past the Mason Dixon Line.
A lot of great athletes from the county have gone on to play for Nebraska. Kevin Ramaekers was a beast of a defensive tackle from Norfolk who dominated on the line in the mid 1990’s. Bill Lafleur used his leg to kick his way on the team, also in the 1990’s. Dave Volk came out of Battle Creek in 1997 and proudly earned his way onto the offensive line. His little brother Cody followed him shortly after in 1999.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the town of Battle Creek sent roughly 10 or more players to play for the Huskers. I know I am missing a lot of them but Coach Schnitzler not only produced a Class C power but a lot of players who went on to play at the college level.
More recently out of the county we’ve had Ethan Piper of Norfolk Catholic has pledged to play for the Huskers in 2019. Norfolk High and Norfolk Catholic have also sent a plethora of players south to Lincoln over the years. I doubt the Madison County pond will dry up anytime soon.
As for my town, Newman Grove sent Casey Nelson to play in 1997. He was a senior my freshman year. I didn’t go up against him very much but the one tackling drill I had against him firmly planted me in the ground.
So, I guess I can say I at least played with a Cornhusker. Not many kids can anymore.