BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
While most of Arkansas’ high school football attention may be on the the beginning of 11-on-11 postseason action this weekend, there’s another championship bracket also getting underway.
The state’s second 8-man football championship – appropriately featuring eight teams – will open action on Friday.
Top seeds Mountain Pine (10-0) and Izard County (6-2) are consider the favorites in a league that now has 13 officially organized gridiron teams according to Arkansas Activities Association spokesman Bobby Swofford.
“What we want to be able to do is have every kid that wants to have to play football to have the ability to do so,” Swofford said. “We know that some schools have had a decline in numbers, not all schools, and the option to have eight-man football program – like Izard County – gives these kids an opportunity that they did not have previously.”
Mountain Pine won the 8-man South Division title while Izard County took the North.
“It is the first year that Izard County has ever had football,” Swofford said. “It has obviously been a couple of years process and they went out and built a stadium and are playing 8-man football for the first time. They won their conference and now have the opportunity to go out and win a state championship.
“They have been a very good basketball school so having athletes has not been the issue, but now they are giving these student-athletes a chance in a different sport and they are doing it at a high level.”
Friday’s games have Mountain Pine hosting Midland, Strong visiting Rector, Izard County at home against Spring Hill and Brinkley traveling to Woodlawn.
The semifinals are set for Nov. 18 and the remaining teams will then take off Thanksgiving weekend and have the championship game on Dec. 1 at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
“It will be televised just like all the other state championship games on Arkansas PBS,” Swofford said.
The AAA is very cognizant of school size when it comes to 8-man football.
“If you are a Class 3A school or above, you are considered a club sport in our eyes because we deem that too high,” Swofford said, “and those other schools have also been placed into an 11-man conference with schools such as Bentonville or Cabot or somebody like Dermott, who brought football back for the first time in a long time and decided to play 8-man football.”
Mountain View downed Fountain Lake 52-32 last week to claim the club championship.
The North features Izard County, Brinkley, Rector, Midland and Augusta while the South had defending state champ Strong, runner-up Mountain Pine, Woodland, Spring Hill, Marvell-Elaine, Hermitage, Cutter Morning Star and Dermott.
“All are 2A or below and we tried to do it geographically,” Swofford said. “The conferences are a little spread out, but with the addition of more schools, those conferences will be all be the same size and closer together.”