House Football Sacked – America’s Oldest Active Football League Radically Changed

After 124 seasons, The Lawrenceville School House Football League, the longest continuously running tackle football league in America, underwent drastic changes. At the start of practice on Thursday Director of Athletics Michael Goldenberg announced  that instead of the traditional full contact tackle football, the League will now be playing flag football. This flag football will have the same basic elements except for the fact that contact has been removed.  Now instead of tackling, players will pull a flag draped around the opponent’s waist in order to end the play. The physical element of blocking will also likely be removed.

Many teams were frustrated, and shortly after hearing the news the entire Hamill House football team walked off the field in protest. Moreover, immediate notes of objection came in from students across the School, accusing the administration of ending an institution as old at the House system itself without any consultation from students.

Related: Letters to the Editor on House Football

In an interview, Goldenberg stated that this decision was made as a result of a decrease in participation this year in the League. By playing tackle football there is a risk for injuries. If a number of injuries were to occur many teams would not have the eight-player minimum needed to form a team. Last year this became a problem as one house was forced to forfeit its final game.

The decision was made quite rapidly as Head Master Liz Duffy H’43 explained that “[Goldberg] and I made the decision about this year. Then we told the housemasters that we will have a discussion after we see what happens this year about what’s going to happen long term. All we’re trying to do is get through this season.” Duffy also recognized the eroding participation in House football as a reason for the change saying, “most of the teams didn’t have enough members to play.” Currently two houses, Kennedy and Cleve, have only eight eligible players. “People are voting with their feet,” said Duffy simply.

The Head Master brought up larger concerns about the institution House Football and its impact on campus life. “What we do worry about is that boys in the house will feel pressured to play House Football, and frankly I don’t worry about that as much if it’s flag football because there’s not the same level of danger.”

Related: Response to House Football Editorial

Many unresolved issues have emerged from this decision, the foremost of which is how the winner  of  The Crutch, The Muffler, and The  Pride of the Circle will be decided.

There is also the issue of concussions and their cumulative effects Goldenberg stated. “Times have changed, we know more about the science of the brain now than we did 20 years ago.”

The sentiment from house players was clear. The majority are in favor of continuing to play tackle football, and many current players are threatening to boycott practice. Upon hearing the decision, III former A.J. Ryan ’16 commented, “House football was one of the reasons I decided to come to Lawrenceville,” and he went on to say, “when I come back for alumni weekend, I want to be able to say that I helped save one of Lawrenceville’s greatest traditions.” Current House coach Will Christoffersen ’14 expressed his concerns lamenting, “thus the oldest football league in the nation has been reduced to a elementary school gym class.”

Former Cleve House member Jack Sheridan ’14  echoed similar sentiments saying, “House Football runs in our blood.  Football is a sport that comes with the liability of getting injured. It is disappointing for them to take away a sport that has had so many successful seasons and is such an integral part of my experience at Lawrenceville.” By late Thursday night, at least one Facebook page entitled “Bring Back House Football” had already been created in opposition to the changes made to the program. As of 12:30am on Friday the page had over 800 likes and is steadily gaining traction.

Read up on the latest in the House Football conversation