Jack Gauthier wanted his fellow students to continue to support his football team.

The Park senior and team captain announced to the student body on Friday that the Rangers’ 2019 varsity season had been forfeited and that they would play the rest of the season on a junior varsity schedule. But he told his peers it would be better for the future of the program.

Park announced the decision Friday through a news release which said lack of participation and player safety were key motivators.

“Of course I feel sadness and disappointment due to the fact that I am a senior, and I will never play in a varsity football game again,” Gauthier said in a statement. “But that is not the way that anyone should look at this situation. The choice was made from a place of concern by the administration and my coaches.

“My team is not varsity ready as a whole, purely because we have way too many inexperienced young people playing varsity roles. And with our numbers being down, this was the best decision possible. I do believe that with time though, the football program at Park High can grow and become a successful, winning program.”

According to Montana High School Association rules, the Rangers must finish out the 2019 season with JV games and will play a 2020 JV schedule as well unless Park appeals by November. Park activities director Regina Wood told the Chronicle her office had talked to officials from Missoula Hellgate, which forfeited its 2016 varsity season, to gain understanding on how to handle the situation.

“It wasn’t on my checklist for a successful first varsity season,” first-year Park head coach Nick Coate said. “It was a tough discussion to have with all the coaches, and I was one of the coaches reluctant to make the decision because I’m so competitive, but it’s what’s best for the program and the players. We have to put that before any personal feelings we have.”

Park was 3-15 in the previous two seasons. In a 55-0 season-opening loss at Fergus last week, Coate said the Rangers incurred key injuries along their offensive line. So he said Park was unlikely to play a varsity game this week, which was scheduled for Friday afternoon against Sidney. He added Park only has 34 players, four of which are seniors.

Last Sunday following the Fergus loss, Coate met with his assistant coaches to watch the previous game’s film and prepare for the following week. After going through the team’s depth chart, that’s where discussions to forfeit the varsity season began. Although Coate had talked about the possibility during the offseason, he said last Friday “cemented” the choice. He was concerned about his younger players going head-to-head with physically imposing seniors.

“They were disappointed they don’t get to play a varsity season, obviously,” Coate said. “I think that’s what every football player, no matter their age, has their heart set on.”

Wood was approached Sunday night with the possibility of playing JV games for the rest of 2019. She trusted the coaches’ understanding of their players and wanted to prioritize safety.

“We all want to see the season continue,” Wood said. “It was hard. It’s disappointing for those upperclassmen, but they look at it through what’s going to be best long term.”

Coate was “absolutely” disappointed he couldn’t finish out the varsity season. But after telling the players Thursday before their practice, he could tell the seniors respected the decision and felt it was important to establish the future of the program.

Coate said the Rangers couldn’t practice with full contact often because they were concerned any injury would prevent them from playing varsity games. Without that pressure, they can better prepare for live action and develop underclassmen.

“The plan is to get back to varsity football. In no way is this closing the door on Park High football,” Coate said. “This is a reset and an opportunity to rebuild the program better than it was before.”

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.