Just in time, before the academic year ended, Cedar Ridge Football Coach Antonio King delivered a statement that will provide some joy for Red Wolves faithful going into the summer.
“As of right now, we are a varsity football team,” King said after a spring workout on May 16.
Compared to how Cedar Ridge ended spring practice last year, that’s enough for Red Wolf fans to start looking forward to Friday nights again this fall.
In 2018, then-Cedar Ridge coach Scott Loosemore notified Athletic Director Andy Simmons about an alarming decline in participation numbers. With games slated against bigger teams (in terms of both size and quantity of players) Cardinal Gibbons, Eastern Guilford and Southern Alamance, the decision was made by Orange County Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt, after consulting with then-Cedar Ridge principal Heather Blackmon, to not field a team last fall.
It set off a chain reaction within the Cedar Ridge athletic program that had a devastating effect on several sports. Five players transferred from Cedar Ridge to Orange to play football, including All-Big 8 Conference baseball player Dante DeFranco.
Loosemore left to become the defensive coordinator at Scotland County in August, but still visits Cedar Ridge when former players or students hold ceremonies to sign letters of intent with college teams.
Whether it was a coincidence or not, no Cedar Ridge men’s teams made the state playoffs in any sport this season.
Right now, Cedar Ridge has its nonconference schedule for next year all set. They’re slated to open against Carrboro on August 16, with additional games set against Bartlett Yancey, Southern Lee and Providence Grove.
“As long as we can control everything and kids keep showing up, we’ll play varsity,” King said. “As long as kids want to play, we’ll play varsity.”
While the participation numbers are up only slightly from last year, the difference is Cedar Ridge’s schedule isn’t as ambitious. Plus, Big 8 Conference rival Chapel Hill didn’t field a team in 2018, while East Chapel Hill canceled its 2017 season. The Wildcats returned last year.
King estimated they averaged 25 players per workout this spring during nine days of workouts.
“We have decent numbers right now,” King said. “We have some more kids who just can’t make it out right now. We’re chugging along. When I got here last year, there wasn’t as many players as we have now.”
However, King says he expects to have some help from rising middle schoolers when training camp starts in August.
“We should have about 20 8th graders in the summer,” King said. “Hopefully, we’ll be around 40-45 people this summer and we’ll just go out there and compete.”
This spring, freshman William Berger and sophomore Elijah Whitaker took turns playing quarterback during workouts. Zach Holmes, who played tight end last fall when Cedar Ridge fielded a junior varsity team, also got some snaps behind center.
“We’re installing football basic 101,” King said about the spring workouts. “We want enthusiasm, competition, competing. We want to make it as fun as possible for them, because they don’t have to be out here.”