Local eight-man football teams can now compete for a conference championship without driving across the state.
The Southwest Michigan Eight-Man Football League was formed this week. The new league includes seven teams — Bridgman, Lake Michigan Catholic, Lawrence, Martin, Michigan Lutheran, New Buffalo and Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.
“We’re pretty excited about the tradition and competition we’re bringing in,” said Lawrence athletic director Aaron Amthor, who will serve as the league’s commissioner.
Michigan Lutheran began playing eight-man football in 2012. Lawrence started in 2013, and won a state championship in 2014. Tri-unity has also had an eight-man program, but the remaining four schools will be making the switch from 11man.
Bridgman and New Buffalo attempted to combat low numbers this past season with a co-operative program, the South County Cougars. Lake Michigan Catholic also partnered with Countryside the past few seasons.
Amthor said that Lawrence has long been interested in a local league, as it has “been traveling all over the place.” The Tigers spent the last two years competing in the North Central Thumb 8-Man League, playing many opponents from the east side of Michigan.
Michigan Lutheran has frequently played members of the South Central Activities Association in recent years.
“Eight-man scheduling is a nightmare,” Michigan Lutheran athletic director John Eggert said. “If you’re not careful, you’ll get left without a schedule at all.
“We’re thrilled to death that this came together. We’ve got some stability now.”
Eggert is also excited the Titans will be able to play local rivals, especially Lake Michigan Catholic.
“When your opponent is at a distance, it’s hard to get a rivalry going,” he said. “With LMC in the league, that’s a pretty sweet cross-town rivalry. It’s going to be a lot more meaningful.”
The league will play a round-robin schedule in its first season. Amthor said that crossover games are planned with members of the SCAA in weeks one, two and nine of the season.
Amthor and Eggert both expressed hope that the league could continue to grow.
“We’d love to add more in the future, especially in Southwest Michigan,” Amthor said. “We’d love for them to apply and join.”
Currently, only Class D schools are eligible to compete in the MHSAA eight-man football playoffs, although that restriction could change in the future. Bridgman is the only member of the new league that would not be playoff-eligible in the current system.
Amthor added that attitudes toward eight-man football have changed over the years.
“The biggest thing is the fear of change and fear of the unknown,” he said. “When they get a chance to see it, they see it’s three less on the field and it’s still blocking and tackling.”