High school sports are cyclical. Teams go through some dominant years with a strong class of kids, before needing a rebuilding phase.
But in football around Manatee County, there are some tradition-rich programs that have yielded more strong seasons than lean years, while there are some programs that have struggled to remain competitive on a weekly basis.
In that latter case, there are various options other than playing varsity football each season in the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Saint Stephen's Episcopal School put forth a beaming example of this by going independent, joining the Sunshine State Athletic Conference and reaching a championship game just three seasons after getting away from the FHSAA.
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There's also the club football option, fielding just a junior varsity team or eight-man football.
The SSAC is something that should be considered locally by other private-school programs in the area like Bradenton Christian and Out-of-Door Academy.
The Panthers have never made the playoffs in their existence, while ODA is going through an extended rebuilding project that has seen the Thunder earn just six victories in the last three seasons combined. ODA hasn't made the postseason since 2010.
Bayshore has been in an extended funk, too, last reaching the playoffs in 2005. That was the Bruins' sixth postseason appearance in a history that dates back
to the 1970s.
It's not just about winning and losing, though.
BCS, ODA and Bayshore haven't fielded competitive programs on a weekly basis for a myriad of reasons.
First, a lack of numbers leads to too many two-way players, meaning there's a greater risk of injuries dampening the little depth at your disposal to begin with.
Second, the population boom in East Manatee County created two additional programs starting in the late 1990s with Lakewood Ranch and in the mid-2000s wth Braden River. That meant six public high school programs in Manatee County, which has spread out the player and talent pool.
And finally, there's just not that much of a football-heavy culture at those schools where success hasn't been seen regularly.
Look, this isn't a call for disbanding football at these particular programs. Bayshore head coach Elijah Freeman, BCS head coach Allan Gerber and ODA head coach Ken Sommers, their coaching staffs and the players on those teams all produce the sweat and hard work every spring, summer and fall, just like the more successful county programs do.
There are just better options when fielding a competitive squad isn't in the cards.
For BCS, the program was forced to forfeit its final regular season game against St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut when the Panthers only had 14 players available.
ODA went 3-7 this season, losing games by at least 21 points on five occasions.
Bayshore, a Class 5A program, held a roster hovering in the 30-player range this season and won two games. The Bruins have won a combined eight games in the last four seasons.
Bayshore sits in a perceived weaker district as the Bruins were still mathematically alive for a playoff berth late in the year despite one victory to that point.
But what's the point of earning a playoff berth if there isn't a realistic shot at competing for a state championship?
Competitive imbalance saw Bayshore score seven total points in its first four games this year. So why not go with a junior varsity team, play club football or eight-man football when the participation numbers create too much of a burden to compete weekly?
And with BCS and ODA, there's no shame in following the Saint Stephen's model of jumping to the SSAC as an independent.
"Small-school football has just not really been favorably treated by the state," Falcons coach Tod Creneti told the Herald in the summer of 2014. "For instance, where we are at the classification cusp of things, it makes it very hard for us to be playing in the 3A district with schools twice our size. So this provides schools with sort of like mission statements to compete with each other."
There's even bigger programs nearby, such as North Port in neighboring Sarasota County, that should re-evaluate football at the varsity level, too, since the Bobcats have never achieved a .500 or better season since beginning football in the mid-2000s.
What they have had at North Port is success in basketball. Bayshore has succeeded in softball and volleyball. BCS and ODA have found their niche in various sports like baseball, softball, basketball, golf, etc. over the years.
In football, though, there are better options than lining up each Friday night in the fall just to get beat in convincing fashion -- no matter how much hard work and effort is used.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill and like his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.