Terry Gray could see it coming; Tim Miller, too.
"The writing," Miller said, "was on the wall."
"But what can you do about it?" Gray asked. "You try to recruit kids, but (the numbers) are just not there."
Frewsburg coach Terry Gray will watch his Bears play new opponents in Class DD this season.
P-J file photo by Rob Tucker
Faced with fewer numbers, lower participation, and, unfortunately, less interest amongst students in playing the sport, neither Gray nor Miller, nor their respective school districts, had a choice.
Both Section 6 Class D schools a year ago, the Gray-guided Frewsburg Bears and the Miller-led Cattaraugus-Little Valley Timberwolves will be competing at the Class DD level this football season.
Despite finding themselves in the top half of enrollment numbers for Section 6 Class D schools - Cattaraugus-Little Valley's total is 212, third-highest amongst the class, while Frewsburg's number, at an even 200, is the sixth highest - only a relatively small number of those eligible ultimately decided to play football this year.
"Between varsity and junior varsity we have 38 kids," Miller said. "So we could kind of see this coming. We have a very small junior class and graduated a lot of seniors, so until the younger groups come up (there's no way around the move down)."
Gray's situation, meanwhile, is eerily similar.
"Two years ago we were right around 58 to 60 kids, now we're somewhere around 39," he said. "And our big kicker is that 17 of those are sophomores."
Two years ago, with ample participants, Frewsburg reached the Class D sectional title game.
With so many young players, many of whom will likely start both teams this season, another issue beyond merely team numbers came into play when making the decision about whether or not it made sense to depart from Class D.
"For us, (the move) was about the safety of our kids and trying to sustain our program," Gray said. "If you've ever talked to me, you know that my big push is using football to teach these kids about being young men. I'm a bigger-picture guy, that's just who I am, so when I'm putting that many young kids on the field I want them to be as safe as can be.
"We thought it would be in the best interest of the kids to move into a league where the other teams have similar demographics."
Neither, however, are necessarily expecting to remain at the Class DD level long term.
"Things go in cycles," Miller said. "It just so happened that we hit a spot where our seniors and juniors don't have a ton of interest in athletics, but our sophomore group (is more interested). So we look at this as a temporary move. We don't believe we'll always be there, it's not our goal and we'd much rather have a chance to compete for a sectional and state title. We wanted a shot at that ultimate goal this year, but realistically we couldn't."
Added Gray, "I'm trying to look at it year-to-year. Who knows who will stay and who will go, but if our 16 or 17 sophomores continue on in the program next year, then I've got 16 or 17 physically-matured juniors and we can look at going back up and competing."
With Cattaraugus-Little Valley and Frewsburg joining the mix, there will now be seven teams in Class DD. The other five are Sherman/Ripley, Clymer, Panama, Franklinville and Pine Valley.
Both Gray and Miller still expect to be playing very competitive football.
"I think the class is solid, top to bottom," Miller said. "There's always good teams, always good competition."
And while the Timberwolves and Frewsburg are joining the DD, a pair of teams are leaving.
Ellicottville, the reigning DD champions, moved into Class D to battle with Randolph, Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake, Portville, Westfield/Brocton and Cassadaga Valley (which is coming down from Class C), while Forestville, also formerly of Class DD, is making the leap into Class C by virtue of its combining with Silver Creek.