After observing the results of the first four weeks of the Upper Peinsula high school football season, one word would seem to describe the situation: Uncertainty.
There have already been a few games cancelled because of a lack of numbers and that number could increase as the season progresses.
In our area, Ontonagon appears to be the flashpoint for the problem.
The Gladiators have had to halt one game (against Ironwood) in the second quarter, and cancel another one versus Forest Park last week because of a lack of healthy players.
This is shocking because the Gladiators have been a playoff team the past three seasons. But the team, which lost an outstanding group of seniors, ran into injury problems right from the start.
Coach Dave Linczeski was forced to use sophomores and freshmen right away - never a good remedy when you're playing in the rugged Great Western Conference, one of the best small school leagues in Michigan.
Whether the Gladiators, who still face tough games against Lake Linden-Hubbell, Hurley, Wis., and the Gogebic Miners, can finish the season remains questionable.
Ontonagon deserves a lot of credit for agreeing to play at LL-H this Saturday, unlike Washburn, Wis. which last year stiffed the Lakes a few hours before calling to cancel out. That effectively ruined the Homecoming festivities at the school.
Even at schools enjoying good seasons, the numbers game continues to be a problem.
A very good L'Anse team only has about 19 players this season, about the same as a strong Ishpeming program had a couple of years ago.
Class A Marquette sported similar numbers not long ago when the football program appeared ready to tumble.
Eight-man football has increased in popularity the past couple of years all around the state and the U.P. has been in on the surge.
Schools like Ewen-Trout Creek, Rapid River, Mid Peninsula, Cedarville, Engadine and Brimley have given up 11-man football. Others like Superior Central now have football for the first time, albeit the 8-man variety, in the Bridge Alliance between some U.P. schools and the northern Lower Peninsula.
You will likely see more schools enter eight-man ranks in the coming years. Baraga and Ontonagon would appear to be candidates, based on dwindling numbers.
And you could even see a coalition of schools like Jeffers and Chassell, who currently are in a co-op program with Hancock.
Over the past few years, Chassell, in particular, has produced several good football players for the Bulldogs program.
And there's already space for a football field behind the school in Chassell.
Traveling long distances remains a major hurdle for 8-man football in our area. But a league consisting of Ewen-Trout Creek, Ontonagon, Baraga and Chassell-Jeffers would alleviate a good part of that problem.
Don't laugh. It could happen in the not so distant future.