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Eight Man Football Uniform

Waverly Bulldogs football uniformNothing brings together a small town like a Friday night football game. Many Kansas high schools carry on this fall tradition by sending only eight players onto the field instead of the traditional eleven.

This football equipment was used by Waverly High School (WHS) football players from the mid-1990s until being replaced by newer gear. WHS played 11-man football until 2002, when the school decided to switch to 8-man. The equipment pictured here may have been used by both Waverly's 11-man and 8-man teams.

Fielding a Team

There are many reasons why schools decide to play with fewer men. In many rural communities, there simply aren't enough students to fill out the roster. Eleven-man teams sometimes have to travel too far to play other schools of comparable size. Eight-man also requires less equipment, which means scarce resources can be allocated elsewhere.

The decision to switch to 8-man was very difficult for WHS. The community of Waverly has been slowly loosing population since 1980. Many other Kansas towns are facing the same reality since the majority of the state's population now resides in urban areas. Some communities are so small that two neighboring schools must cooperate to form one football team.

Waverly Bulldogs football helmet

Even though Waverly High School has enough football players to field an 11-man team, by 2002 most nearby schools of similar size were playing 8-man. So the Waverly Bulldogs switched too. While some residents disliked the idea, this town of about 600 people has increasingly supported the team. The Bulldogs kicked off the fall of 2006 with a pre-season scrimmage attended by over 150 people. The team rewarded this faith by winning back-to-back State championships in 2005 and 2006.

Eight-man is not the first set of football rules to require fewer players than the traditional 11. Six-man teams appeared in Kansas as early as 1935, and many smaller schools chose to play this version of football. The rules were different enough, though, that when 8-man was introduced with rules more similar to 11-man, 6-man schools added two players to their starting line-ups. Today about 100 schools across the state play 8-man.

Waverly Bulldogs after winning 2006 8-Man State Championship

There aren't big differences between 8-man and 11-man football. Generally, the three positions absent in the 8-man offense are two tackles and a wide receiver. The defense plays with two fewer backs and one less lineman. Eight-man teams also play on a smaller field--measuring 80 by 40 yards--as opposed to an 11-man field of 100 by 53 1/3 yards. Other than that, the rules and equipment are basically the same.

Windom High School was the first Kansas team to try 8-man in 1956. They convinced Kanopolis High School to assemble a team and the two schools played an exhibition game following the regular season. Windom lost, but they started a tradition that has continued every fall since.

This uniform is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

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Entry: Eight Man Football Uniform

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2007

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.