The 2024 Sangamo Conference football schedule was upended this week when Riverton announced it would cancel its college football season, citing low participation numbers.

“When 90% of your team is made up of freshmen, that’s the route we had to take,” third-year Riverton coach Colton Piper said.

The Hawks are coming off their fourth winless season since 2016.

The Riverton School District issued a statement Monday calling the decision “difficult” but that the program plans to run a junior varsity schedule.

Piper said other coaches at Sangamo Conference schools he’s spoken with have said Riverton’s two seniors, Tristan Tolley and Andrew Watson, would be allowed to play at the JV level.

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“It’s not ideal; no one is jumping for joy and saying, ‘Great! We’re going to play junior varsity,’” Piper said. “It’s a real shame for my two seniors, they’re players who have been on the team for four years; you never want anyone to miss a single game, let alone an entire season. It’s a health and safety risk; we have no other option right now.”

Tolley said Monday was a sad day for both him and Watson, his teammate and best friend.

“I’ve been on this team for four years and I really didn’t expect to get news like that,” Tolley said Tuesday. “At least we can play and hopefully in the next few years we can play varsity again.”

“(Tolley and Watson) have discussed what this means for us and how we should move forward with this.”

Piper said 30 helmets were handed out to players this summer, but there were never more than 22 players at any practice. On Monday, only 13 participants attended practice.

The Hawks planned to have two seniors, two juniors and 16-18 freshmen and sophomores combined for the JV and varsity teams.

Piper said there has been an example of similar situations elsewhere leading to success. Then-Litchfield coach Dan Carlson made the decision to cancel the Purple Panthers’ COVID-19-shortened spring 2021 varsity season after four straight 0-9 campaigns. After an 0-9 record in the fall of 2021, the Panthers snapped a 47-game losing streak in 2022 before qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2005 last season.

“I understand that when the news broke, nobody was happy, and I’m not going to sit here and say I’m excited about it, but there’s a chance that if we’re successful and this works out, Litchfield just did,” Piper said. “I know Sullivan and Sandwich were in similar situations around COVID or post-COVID, and both teams made the playoffs last year. It’s been done and it’s worked before. I’m not going to promise anything, but it could be the baby steps we need.”

Piper says there could be personnel at the younger levels to bring about that change.

“We have a group of second-year players who are going to be very good one day and are competitors, and obviously they’re upset,” Piper said. “They want to play as well as we can. Nobody was happy.”

Tolley pledges that he and Watson will continue to provide superior leadership.

“Our goal this year is to try to teach them as best we can and get them to follow in our footsteps,” Tolley said. “We hope to have more kids next year and that will serve to strengthen the varsity program.”

Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, [email protected]