MDFL - Junior football in the Mininera and District Football League is beginning to hit crisis point with lack of numbers threatening the existence of the competition in the future.
League delegates called a public meeting last week for all clubs to discuss the decline in the under-16 division, which has seen a rapid drop in participation in recent years.
Mininera and District Football League president Ruth Brain said the executive had been gathering information on how the 12 clubs are tracking numbers-wise for 2014, with reigning premier the Ararat Eagles leading the way before a considerable gap between the rest of the competition.
"First thing we asked was to get a snap shot of all the clubs this year and to be honest numbers aren't looking good," she said.
"Moyston/Willaura have about 15 and Ararat Eagles are about 16 to 18 they are two of the best.
"Then some clubs drop back to four and then there's a few with eight, which isn't great.
"These numbers are worrying really."
Brain said the first part of the meeting was focused on what she described as a 'band-aid solution' to be used this year, while the second half of the meeting centred around the long term future of the competition.
"It will very much be similar to last year where we have been flexible about how many players constituted a team," she said.
"There was a couple of times there were teams played 10 a side and that is fine. I would really encourage clubs to continue to hand over players to make an even game and allow everyone to take to the field.
"If there is the situation where it is only 10 a side then we may have to reduce the playing time by five or six minutes a quarter, but the ground size will remain the same.
"The most important thing is to have them out there playing football."
One of the other options considered at the meeting was to relax the permit system, which allows a limited number of players to join a team on a temporary basis.
Last year the MDFL allowed four permit players per team, per match and Brain said by relaxing the system again it may allow clubs to top up their list with permit players.
"Having said that, there will still be restrictions," she said.
"They may be able to have one 16 year old and then a couple more that are 15 or 14 play on permit just to ensure things remain fair."
Last week's meeting also allowed a forum for discussion on how clubs could strengthen their ties with junior players in the region and help attract numbers.
Brain said long term clubs need to look at a variety of methods for encouraging junior development.
"I'd like to see clubs have more of a presence in schools and even competitions like the Ararat and District Junior Football Association," she said.
"Clubs could also set up a buddy system where senior players take on junior players in a mentoring role. Registration nights that coincide with junior netball registration nights could also be a possibility.
"I encourage any of those different initiatives that help boost numbers."
The Mininera and District Football League season commences on April 12.
"Despite the lack of numbers, I don't believe we had a forfeit in the junior football last year and we'll be aiming for that again this season," Brain said.
"Any kids out there who'd love a game of footy, I strongly encourage them to go to these country clubs and give it a go."