By Lloyd Jones
CONWAY — There will be no junior varsity games this winter for the Kennett High girls' basketball team.
The Eagles saw their numbers fall from 23 to 13, despite losing only one player from the program to graduation last June.
With the drop in participation, KHS Athletic Director Neal Weaver and Larry Meader, head coach of the girls' basketball program, attempted to create an abbreviated JV schedule.
Before the young flock could take to the hardwood, however, Weaver pulled the plug on the season due to injuries and a lack of healthy players.
"I'm very disappointed to email you today and inform you that we just won't be able to play our JV girls basketball games with you this season," Weaver wrote last week to the Sacopee Valley, Plymouth, Berlin and Kingswood athletic departments.
It is the first season in more than 40 years that Kennett has not fielded a JV girls' basketball team.
Weaver explained Kennett's plight.
"Out of our 13 girls, one has a concussion and won't be in school the rest of this week. I don't know when she'll be cleared to return to play at this point," he said." One is happy videoing the varsity games and more comfortable shooting at a side basket during practice at this point.
Another girl, he said, "can only play about 1-2 minutes at a time and needs to improve her conditioning before being able to play extended periods of time. This leaves us with only 10 girls, eight of which play varsity on a regular basis and two of which get into varsity games for short amounts of time."
"We didn't want to do it, but it was really the only thing we could do," Meader said. "We just don't have the numbers to make it work this winter."
Weaver thanked the opposing athletic directors for their "understanding and flexibility to help try to make this happen for us this year."
There were 23 girls last year and only one senior, Sydney Perk, graduated from the team. The depleted numbers meant KHS was looking at playing junior varsity on different nights as varsity games.
All home varsity night games are at 6 p.m. instead of, as originally planned, 6:30 p.m., after JV games, typically.
"We were looking at an eight-game JV schedule on non-varsity dates," Meader said. "Neal Weaver and I are going to reach out to kids and parents to see why girls aren't playing. From what Neal and I have been told by other coaches and ADs, we're not the only ones with this problem.
"Timberlane, who was in Division I last year and now in Division II this year, isn't fielding a JV team this winter. They don't have the numbers, either. This seems to be a statewide problem."
Lebanon and Hanover also are struggling with player numbers, at 18 and 17 players, respectively.
"Lebanon and Hanover, it's a basketball mecca over there," Meader said. "When those programs aren't getting numbers out, that tells you something is happening."
This year, many of the largest schools in the state, which play in Division I, had trouble fielding JV and freshmen teams. According to the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, Londonderry, Manchester Memorial, Merrimack, Nashua South and Winnacunnet had fewer than 30 girls try out for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams combined.
Londonderry and Winnacunnet, viewed as two of the top programs, have combined for seven of the last 10 D-I titles.
"I think kids have too many other options, more interests," Meader said. "Some are playing other sports, and kids are working.
But even the other sports at Kennett are down. "Tennis only had six girls last year. Soccer numbers were down, and I think field hockey numbers were down, too."
But there is hoop hope on the horizon.
"We have 35 girls playing down at the (Kennett) Middle School," Meader said. "Twenty of those are eighth-graders. We're only losing one senior (from the current team), and if we get some girls from Bartlett and Tamworth, we should have pretty good numbers."
Beginning Feb. 4, the high school program will spend three Sundays practicing at the middle school and doing clinics afterwards for the young Eagles.
"We're trying to get a good bridge from the middle school to the high school," Meader said. "We're trying to figure out why kids are not playing. There just aren't a lot of three-sport athletes anymore (that play a fall, winter and spring sport).
"A number of kids are specializing in just one sport and play it year-round. Sometimes playing too much isn't a good thing. One of the better Laconia girls (on its basketball team) tore her ACL playing lacrosse just last weekend. Now her basketball season, and probably her lacrosse season (in the spring) are over. I just think sometimes athletes can overdo it."