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Citing a lack of available players and safety reasons, Matthew C. Perry High School has folded its football team for the 2004 season, school and team officials announced Tuesday.

According to Perry’s principal, Alice Berard, “there were 14 [players] we could count on,” with just six returners. Most of the rest were freshmen or sophomores who had never played before, Berard said.

“We’re making the decision based on the safety of students, the majority of them being underclassmen,” Berard said. “For their health and well-being, it’s not the best thing for them. Not that some of them couldn’t do it, but we really didn’t want to have an off-again, on-again playing situation due to injuries.”

Kevin Crone coached much of last season — in which Perry went 0-7, scored 35 points and gave up 276 — with as few as 14 players, but that club had a solid core of veteran senior leadership, he said.

“This year, we have only two,” Crone said of seniors Adam Krievs and Chris Allison. “That was a factor in the decision process.”

Crone, Berard and the school delayed making a final decision until the first day of school on Tuesday, hoping more students would come out for the team. But that afternoon, Crone talked with the team before he and Berard met with parents and made the announcement.

“They were disappointed, but they understood the reasons behind it,” Berard said.

Berard also said the issue “definitely” will be revisited next fall.

Perry has had problems with fielding teams as recently as last spring, when the baseball and softball teams cancelled their seasons due to lack of eligible players.

“We have 64 high school boys,” Berard said. “Our male population is smaller than some teams in our district. With football, you need more than in any other sport. When the male population is involved in tennis and cross country as well, you can’t spread it that thin.

“We gave it a go. We tried. We gave it our all. It just didn’t happen.”

Krievs, apparently, is considering transferring to Nile C. Kinnick at Yokosuka Naval Base. Berard said he has relatives in the area.

Kinnick coach Robert Stovall said Krievs would be “a nice addition” to the Red Devils, “but I’d rather have [Perry] with a football team.

“It’s sad to see what Richard built up go down the drain,” Stovall said. “It’s too bad for our kids and too bad for their kids. Our seniors really love that trip [to Iwakuni]. They’re going to be really disappointed.”

As for the remaining crop of Samurai, they will play a scrimmage game Sunday against a Japanese team from Hiroshima, Crone said.

“You have 14 players that busted their butt for a month going two-a-days, hoping other kids would check in and come out,” he said. “So we’re going to play our lone game on Sunday. If we win, we’ll be unbeaten for the entire season, I tell them. They’ve earned their chance to play.”

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