Polytech High forfeits final 2 football games

WOODSIDE — After losing more than half its roster to injuries, Polytech High has decided to forfeit its two remaining varsity football games.

The Panthers were slated to play at Milford this Friday night before closing the season by hosting Smyrna on Nov. 8.

The decision was made on Tuesday “due to a shortage of available players and concerns for student-athlete safety,” according to a news release that was sent out by the school.

Polytech currently has only 16 available players after losing 21 to injuries during the season.

Probably the most notable of those injuries was to junior Collin Jaksch, who required emergency surgery after suffering a head injury in a game two weeks ago.

The news release said that first-year head coach Robert Mason made the decision on Tuesday.

“Coach Mason’s decision to withdraw our student-athletes from competition for the rest of the season has been a very difficult one, and we share in the disappointment that our students, families, and community members likely are feeling,” Polytech superintendent Dr. Amelia E. Hodges was quoted in the statement. “However, I support Coach Mason’s decision, as we are unwilling to compromise the health and safety of our student-athletes.”

Officially, the Panthers will finish with an overall record of 1-9, including an 0-7 mark in the Henlopen Conference Northern Division.

Polytech was out-scored by a total of 172-13 in three straight games before losing to Cape Henlopen, 34-18, last Friday. The 18-point total was its season high.

The Panthers are a combined 2-18 over the past two seasons after going 6-4 in 2017.

The head coaches from the two teams who will receive forfeits — Milford’s Shaun Strickland and Smyrna’s Mike Judy — said they were disappointed not to be able to play the games but also that they understand Polytech’s decision.

Mr. Strickland said he was told on Monday there was a chance that the Panthers wouldn’t be able to play this week’s game.

“That safety concern, it’s a real one — especially when you see everything happening in football these days,” said Mr. Strickland. “If that’s what it takes to keep things moving forward, you’re rather have that than the alternative.”

Friday’s game was supposed to be homecoming for Milford. Ryan Winkleblach, Milford’s athletic director, said school officials and student leaders were discussing alternative plans for the festivities.

If there is a silver lining to the situation, Mr. Strickland said Milford’s football players would be able to enjoy the event without having to worry about playing a game, too.

“Homecoming is always a big deal,” said Mr. Strickland. “The nice part is they still have the dance and they’re still going to have the parade.

“It’s always nice that we get to play a game that Friday, in terms of that tradition. But, for us, it’s bigger than a game. They (the players) get have a weekend to just be kids and not have that pressure of a game on them.”

Milford still has a game remaining, against rival Lake Forest on Nov. 8.
Smyrna, too, knows its season won’t end early because of the forfeit. With a guaranteed victory, the Eagles clinch the Henlopen North title and a spot in the DIAA Division I state tournament.

Now with an open date next weekend, Smyrna will have a little more time to rest and prepare for the tourney.

“I feel for them (the Panthers) and their players and their coaches and their parents,” said Mr. Judy. “We’ll talk about it as a team and we’ll plan how to treat it. We’ll figure it out.”

Polytech isn’t the first Delaware high school football team to forfeit part of its season because of a lack of players. In 2017, Dickinson forfeited the last six games of its 10-game schedule.

“The decision they made, it’s a tough decision for them, first and foremost,” Mr. Judy said about Polytech. “That’s a tough thing to do within your own program. You’ve got to respect them for doing what they feel is right in the situation.

“Only the people on the inside know how bad things can be to force that hand.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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