Rural communities struggle to adapt to life without football
Last fall was supposed to be the capstone of Braden Morris’s high-school football career. The previous year, his tiny southern Illinois school, Bunker Hill High School, which has fewer than 200 students, joined forces with a neighboring school so they’d have enough players to field a varsity team. As the starting quarterback, Morris led the combined 38-player team to a playoff berth. But heading into his senior year, he was one of only 24 boys who had signed up to play—far fewer than the 35 to 40 players that Brian Borkowski, the team’s coach, considers ideal for a school that size. Then, in the first game of the season, Morris broke his wrist, and his younger brother, Evan, the starting tailback, dislocated his hip. “They were out for the season, and that kind of started the train of injuries rolling,” Borkowski says.
By the fourth week, the team was left with just 17 players, most of whom were freshmen and sophomores. That Friday night, the game was called off during the third quarter for safety reasons—by then, the team was losing 68–0. The next week, Borkowski broke the news to his players: Their season was over.
“It was tough,” Braden Morris told me. “Part of me didn’t want to accept that this was the way I would go out.” The cancellation packed a triple punch in his household—Braden and Evan’s stepbrother, Garrett, was the team’s starting center and defensive tackle.