LCM 1 Issac Whitmore carries during the first half. Friday October 4 2013 Lower Cape May at Pleasantville Football. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

The Lower Cape May Regional High School football team wanted to forfeit just today’s game against Holy Spirit for safety reasons.

The Caper Tigers then planned to regroup and play the rest of their schedule.

But the Cape-Atlantic League voted Thursday that the Caper Tigers must forfeit all of their remaining varsity football games and finish this season as a junior varsity team.

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Lower’s remaining games are at Ocean City on Nov. 1; home vs. Cedar Creek on Nov. 8; a consolation game Nov. 15/16 and home vs. Middle Township on Thanksgiving.

The Lower vs. Middle game — dubbed the Anchor Bowl — usually draws a large crowd.

Mainland Regional athletic director and CAL president Mike Gatley said the vote was 14-3 with five abstentions. Gatley said if Lower has safety issues against Holy Spirit it would also have safety issues against other varsity teams.

“We did it for the safety of their own kids and from a legal point the safety of the teams that were (scheduled) to play against them,” Gatley said.

Lower athletic director Mark Schiffbauer and coach Bill Miller did not return several calls for comment Thursday. The Lower Cape May Regional Board Of Education did meet Thursday night.

Lower Cape is winless and has lost its five games on the field by an average of 42.6 points. Holy Spirit (6-0) is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 and has won three straight state titles. Miller and Schiffbauer said Tuesday that the Caper Tigers consist mostly of freshmen and sophomores.

The coach and athletic director said Lower couldn’t compete with the Spartans and they were concerned for the safety of the players. Lower has had seven players suffer concussions this season and three of those are out for the year. Miller said Tuesday the game against Holy Spirit would amount to just "physical punishment" for his team.

Gatley said the league does not want teams to pick and choose who they can play.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Gatley said. “It (forfeiting one game and playing others) sets an extremely poor precedent. You can’t say you have a safety issue on October 25th but it’s not a safety issue on the first of November.”

Gatley said Lower could appeal the league’s decision. If that occurs, Gatley said the CAL would consult with its executive committee and seek legal advice.

“It’s a really tough decision,” Gatley said. “Unfortunately when you come across these situations it can get messy.”

The Lower vs. Holy Spirit contest is a CAL interconference game. Holy Spirit plays in the American Conference, while Lower is a member of the National Conference.

The CAL — like every other New Jersey high school football league — schedules football games in two-year cycles.

Each CAL team is mandated to play one interconference game. The league scheduled interconference games for 2012 and 2013 based on teams’ records in 2010 and 2011. Lower finished 7-3 in 2010 and 5-5 in 2011. Holy Spirit beat Lower 41-6 last season.

Gatley said Lower’s forfeit and the questions about the future viability of its football program would force the league to review its conference alignment for the 2014-15 seasons.

The league realigned in September for 2014-15 and switched Holy Spirit from the American Conference, which consists of schools with large enrollments, to the smaller National Conference, where schools like Lower Cape May (a South Jersey Group II member) play.

Spirit officials are concerned they could face more forfeits in the future if forced to play against schools with small enrollments.

“It opens up a whole can of worms,” Gatley said.

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I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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