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Why is High School Football Moving Out of State?

10 Sep, 2021

By: Michael Popke

More away games? Try far away games. A number of high school football teams have made headlines recently as they shift away from regularly playing others in their area and seek out of state opponents. The reasons for moving are as varied as the areas they represent but one thing’s for sure: the trend (sometimes including hotel stays) comes at a price.

In Santa Ana, California, and Littleton, Colorado, for example, high school football teams will be traveling to other states — in one case, more than halfway across the country — to play early-season games. 

Santa Ana’s Mater Dei, ranked No. 1 in the 2021 Preseason High School Football America 100powered by NFL Play Football, replaced the cancellation of two games on its regular-season schedule with a Sept. 10 road trip to Las Vegas to play the 2019 Nevada state champion Liberty High School of Henderson in the Polynesian Football Classic at Bishop Gorman High School.

Meanwhile, Littleton, Colorado’s Dakota Ridge High School football team traveled almost 1,500 miles in late August to Jacksonville, Florida, because the head coach of First Coast High School doesn’t want to play “cupcakes.”In 2020, Dakota Ridge collectively outscored its opponents 384-69 before being ousted in the semifinals of the state playoffs. The matchup with First Coast this year was the team’s fifth Florida game since 2012.

Three other Colorado teams also are slated to play regular-season games in Florida through early September, too, according to The Denver Post, in what is described as a “continued shift away from traditional non-league scheduling.” Other Colorado high school football teams will visit Arizona, California and Nevada this season.

The Colorado-Florida connection comes courtesy of KSA Events, a Windermere, Florida-based organizer of high school sporting events that provides travel packages for teams that, in the case of Dakota Ridge’s football team, cost about $1,800 per player. Fundraising is critical, head coach Ron Woitalewicz told The Post.

The cost of out-of-state travel is considerable. Back in 2019, Virginia’s Highland Springs High School traveled 205 miles to Marion Kirby Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina to oppose Page High School. Prior to the event, Highland Springs athletics director Rick Lilly told reporters the school was planning to spend $7,500 to $8,500 on chartered buses, meals and other expenses to make the trip.

According to Richmond.com, the balancing act of finding the right opponent with the right schedule led to the travel plans.

“It was a combination of not being able to find appropriate competition locally and schools either not having an opening in their schedule or the dates didn’t work out,” Lilly said. “With our recent success, there’s a limited supply of schools that see this as a good fit for them.”

With most of the other options exhausted for both schools, Page coach Jared Rolfes connected with Highland Springs coach Loren Johnson through the FootballScoop.com website’s message board for teams seeking games. After they discussed the details, Harder and Lilly finalized the deal.

Lest you think this is an isolated trend, it’s on the rise nationally. Here is a list of high school teams and their out-of-state schedules.

Out-of-state travel is not happening across the board. Some schools have chosen not to travel out of state because of health concerns, citing the wish to continue in-person classes and avoid lockdowns. But the movement of teams out of state is only one part of the equation. Another aspect is football players actually moving residence to play in states they can get more attention. And while it started in 2020, look for it to continue in years to come.

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