OSWEGO — The Oswego City School District Board of Education expressed a desire to field a varsity football team this year and plans to install a turf athletic field at Tuesday’s meeting.

Oswego High School (OHS) has struggled to maintain a full football program in the last five years due to safety concerns and declining participation. Oswego City School District (OCSD) officials, however, are optimistic the school could field a football team next year if students opt to participate.

“We’re giving it a try to see if we can maybe be more proactive in getting a coach in place sooner than we normally would,” board president Heather Del Conte said. “So that person would have the ability to recruit and get out there in the community and really see what we can do.”

Athletic Director Rhonda Bullard said there are 17 players who were ready to participate in varsity football last season if the school had fielded a team, while another 12 sophomores played on the modified team last year. If all 29 students opted to participate in the coming year, the school would be able to field a team.

OCSD suspended the varsity team in the fall of 2019, citing safety concerns due to the limited number of participants. Though there were 23 players on the roster in 2019, Bullard said from the time practices started in August until the decision was made in September, the maximum amount of players that would appear at practice was 18.

Decline in participation in football is not a problem exclusive to Oswego as nationally the number of high school teams and players has been dropping for a number of years.

“I think the work that the Buc Boosters are trying to do, work with school spirit, it used to be that football was the nucleus of that and I think it’s missing,” Superintendent Dean Goewey said. “It has changed across the country.

The board also discussed a plan to install a turf field on the high school grounds, which would be easier to maintain and not present the drainage problems during periods of high precipitation experienced with the current field.

A public vote in December of 2018 approved a $63 million project, which included the installation of the turf field. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board discussed organic turf infill options with a landscape engineer who was present.

The organic infill was brought up after members of the public voiced concerns about the possibility traditional rubber infill could have negative environmental and health impacts for the players.

The field landscape engineer outlined options such as cork or cornhusk pellets being used as alternative infill options.

“There’s some discrepancy as to whether there’s environmental concerns and health concerns in terms of exposure from the rubber,” Del Conte said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good information but at the end of the day we really have to make the best decision with what little tangible evidence we have.”

No decisions regarding football or the turf field were made at Tuesday’s meeting, the board’s next meeting is scheduled for January 21.

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