By DOUG DONNELLY
Pittsford will play 8-Player football starting 2022.
Wildcat athletic director and head football coach Mike Burger confirmed the announcement Thursday after informing the Southern Central Athletic Association and Tri-County Conference members.
“We made the decision in the last couple of days,” Burger said. “We did everything we could to stay 11-man. I just think it’s our only choice. There aren’t any teams like us anymore.”
Pittsford will re-join the SCAA next year, leaving the TCC after two seasons. Pittsford made a two-year commitment to the Tri-County Conference and Burger said he’s proud to have fulfilled that.
“We’ve done everything we can to have these games,” he said. “It’s not just about Pittsford. There’s another team we are playing on Friday nights, and they deserve to have games, too. We’ve done it the right way. We’ve been up front with both conferences from the start.
“I think we did it with integrity and I’m proud of that.”
The TCC has gone through some changes since Pittsford became a football, wrestling and bowling member before the 2019-20 school year. As Erie Mason – with an enrollment of 382 – joined the league, Britton Deerfield opted to play 8-Player football as well, leaving Pittsford on an island in terms of the size of its school.
“Without BD, who else is like us?” Burger said. “The framework of that conference has changed. I am thankful the TCC gave us the opportunity to play. That is a great small-school football conference.”
Pittsford has yet to win a Tri-County Conference game in its two seasons in the league.
The Wildcats have a long history of football success. The team won a Class DD state title in 1996 and have made the playoffs 23 times since 1990. Enrollment, however, has steadily declined, from a high of 285 in 2000 to a low of 127 this year. While the football program remains relatively strong in numbers – Burger has 35 players in grades 9 through 12 – the school has found finding competitive opponents a difficult task.
“This isn’t about wins or losses,” Burger said. “I’ll play anybody. We’ve went to the (Mackinac) bridge to play games; we’ve played in northern Michigan. This year we played in Pontiac. We’ll travel to play. It’s just there aren’t any times like us around anymore.”
Burger is in his 11th year as the Wildcat head football coach, but has been with the program for much longer.
Pittsford is the third smallest school in Michigan to still play 11-player football. Only Clarkston Everest Collegiate (116) and Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (100) are smaller.
“I’ve been an advocate of 11-player football,” Burger said. “Our kids deserve a lot of credit. They go out and play hard every night. They are getting better.”
Pittsford has been a member of the Southern Central Athletic Association since 1970. The last year the league played 11-Player football was 2019 when Pittsford, Athens and Lenawee Christian were the only teams in the league. LCS and Athens both started playing 8-Player last year.
“We didn’t want to do this, but with everything going on, it’s just been the perfect storm,” Burger said. “We have to embrace it and move forward. We did everything we could.”