Alleman High School will not field a varsity football team for the 2023-24 school year, school officials announced Wednesday.
Alleman relayed the decision to other Western Big 6 Conference school principals and athletics directors in a meeting in Galesburg.
Coach Fritz Dieudonne said school administrators decided this was the best decision moving forward to protect the health and safety of the players. Ten seniors, most of them two-way players, graduated from a 30-person roster this past fall.
“I understand people are going to be mad or upset about this decision, but I hope the Alleman community understands this was strictly made to protect our players,” Dieudonne said. “The reality of our numbers situation is that we are going to have a really young team. The vast majority are freshmen or sophomores, and we didn’t want to risk having a scenario like we did this year with Moline.”
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The Pioneers had to forfeit their matchup with the Maroons last season because injuries to the offensive line led Alleman to having just five linemen available, all of which were underclassmen.
Alleman still plans to field a junior varsity team in 2023 and will complete its entire non-conference and conference schedule on that level. The coaches and practice schedule will remain the same.
“This gives us the best chance to allow our seniors to have a season and take the field without risking us having to forfeit games because of bodies,” Dieudonne said. “I told the guys in the locker room today that no one can question how much I care about my players. And with the risk of putting kids two-plus years earlier on the field than they are ready for in a tough conference, it wasn’t a safe scenario.”
School officials announced that they plan to resume full conference play in 2024, but also acknowledged that it intends to "reevaluate the decision next spring."
Dieudonne discussed the difficulties Alleman may have in 2024 when teams try to reschedule the Pioneers on their 2023 schedules.
"I told our players that we are taking a risk of having our Big 6 opponents looking to fill games,” Dieudonne said. “If they end up in a scenario where they are having to do two-year agreements, it’s possible we may not face a conference team in 2024.
“I think everyone in our conference understands this is a one-year deal right now, but I know during our conversations (Wednesday) that it did come up. The reality is that those schools have to do what is best for their programs. We may have to find a way to find games to fill for those specific weeks.”
Dieudonne also mentioned how Alleman has lost players in the past because freshmen and sophomores, some who haven’t played tackle football for more than one or two years, decided not to play because they were forced to play two- or three-year older opponents on varsity.
Allleman officials believe this decision will allow the varsity team to grow and be more competitive by 2024.
“We’ve had players who should be playing, but aren’t because of the safety concerns of parents,” Diuedonne said. “How can you tell a parent that their incoming freshman, who is 14 years old, is going to have to line up in a varsity game? We’ve had a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with that scenario, and so as a staff we have done everything we can to protect our players. That’s why this decision was made. I hope everybody can understand.”
Alleman was 0-9 in 2021 before winning its season opener in 2022 against Chicago Academy, but then dropped the final eight games of the season.
The Pioneers were the Class 4A state runner-ups in 2010 and 2012 before enrollment issues in recent years plagued the program. The school also didn’t field a softball team last spring.
“I think if there is anything I want to tell the community, it’s that this decision is being made in the hopes that this great program can have a chance to go back to where we were,” Dieudonne said. “We wanted to ensure that our players have a good experience and that they also get to compete and have a nine-game schedule.
“As difficult as it was to get to this point, we’ve had growth in the program from a numbers standpoint and with the projected numbers we feel like we can stay on pace to be competitive and play our varsity schedule by 2024.”