MAYVILLE - The Chautauqua Lake Central School district football program could be losing one of its most difficult opponents next season.
However, it could be gaining some very talented teammates.
A proposal has been made that the CLCS varsity and junior varsity football program merge with its Section 6 Class D division opponent at Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School. The merger is intended to ensure the continuation of the JV programs at both Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove, as well as provide cost savings while improving upon safety concerns.
Josh Liddell, Chautauqua Lake secondary principal and supervisor of athletics, has proposed combining the junior varsity and varsity football programs at Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove.
P-J file photo by Scott Kindberg
The proposal was made recently by Josh Liddell, secondary school principal and supervisor of athletics, before the CLCS Board of Education as well as several football players and their parents. The board approved the proposal, which will now await a decision from the Bemus Point Central School District, likely at its next board meeting.
Several other Class D school districts are reportedly in conversation to consider combining football programs. Successful mergers have already been performed by other regional districts, including: Brocton and Westfield, Ellicottville and West Valley, and Sherman and Ripley.
'A VERY SUCCESSFUL FORMAT'
"That's been a very successful format for us in the past. These combinations have enabled us to continue to provide our student athletes with
Chautauqua Lake secondary principal and supervisor of athletics
Liddell's proposal touched on topics such as: decreasing school enrollment numbers, safety concerns regarding combined JV and varsity practices, the previous successful merging of several other football programs throughout the county and the increasing possibility that there may not be enough teams in the league to maintain the format that allows smaller D-league districts to remain competitive in their division.
This is not the first time Chautauqua Lake has merged with other districts in order to prevent sports programs from being cut. The school has five combined sports teams, with two combinations starting in the spring. They include: boys swimming, girls swimming, wrestling, boys tennis and boys golf. Due to financial constraints and low roster numbers, Chautauqua Lake has already cut several sports programs including: boys JV soccer, boys volleyball, modified girls volleyball, modified football and modified cheerleading.
"One of the things that our board looks at when we possibly have to cancel a program, because of financial constraints or low enrollment, is combining," said Liddell. "That's been a very successful format for us in the past. These combinations have enabled us to continue to provide our student athletes with co-curricular options."
In this instance, CLCS's JV program is in danger of being cut due to low enrollment numbers. According to Liddell, a main reason for the decrease in players is fear regarding the combined JV and varsity practice.
"Many of our freshman go into JV football and they're scared with legitimate concerns," he said. "When you don't have sufficient numbers for a JV or varsity program, those players will be going up against juniors and seniors at practices. And it's not the coach's fault either, because they just don't have the numbers to have a separate JV practice and a separate varsity practice. What the real issue comes down to is not only those kids being scared, but those kids getting injured. That's a fear that I have for all of our kids."
Since the 2006-07 school year, Chautauqua Lake has experienced a decline in its athletic classification BEDS numbers, which have fallen from 242 to 188 in the 2012-13 school year. These numbers are nearly identical with those at Maple Grove, which have fallen from 242 in 2006-07 to 186 in 2012-13. The classification numbers are determined by the state, which takes a snapshot of a district's total enrollment every year on Veterans Day and calculates the total number of students in ninth through 11th grades.
A successful merger would have no long-term commitment implications. As with the other combined teams at Chautauqua Lake, it would be re-evaluated on a yearly basis. According to Liddell, the benefits of this combination would outweigh the negatives.
"If Maple Grove and Chautauqua Lake combine, we will have more than 20 student athletes for both the JV and varsity programs," he said. "That will give the coaching staff the luxury of having separate JV and varsity practices, which is not commonplace anymore. It will also limit injuries and safety concerns. I had to crunch some numbers in a very short time period and came up with a cost savings of $7,000 to $8,500 per season if we combine."
The nature of the merger would consider it to be a true combination. This would mean a sharing of two home games at each district, two total homecoming games with one at each district, practices split evenly and include coaches representing both districts. It would also bump the team up to Section 6 Class C, which includes the Westfield-Brocton combined team, Fredonia, Southwestern and the Forestville-Silver Creek combined team.
"Through my own experiences with our other five combined teams, it's almost impossible to work out every detail," said Liddell. "I can tell you with confidence that with the other five combinations ... we've been able to handle all of those details and handle them quickly. My fear for the future of Chautauqua Lake and my home district of Maple Grove is that we're not being proactive and we might be playing a varsity-only football schedule next year, which is problematic for our kids. I do have a unique perspective on all of this, particularly in this combination, but I'm confident that both Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove students will be in good hands if this combination does become a reality."
Maple Grove has already formed a committee to analyze the pros and cons of the proposal.