An inevitability that could not be prolonged any longer will become a reality at the start of the high school football season.
A motion to enter into a shared agreement between the Clymer Central School and Sherman Central School varsity football programs has been approved by both districts - complimented by the sharing of Clymer, Sherman and Panama Central School's junior varsity program.
The decision comes one month after Clymer made its situation known during a regular meeting of its Board of Education. At that time, Bert Lictus, shared superintendent of both Clymer and Panama, said Clymer would need to merge its varsity football program to sustain itself into the following season because the division in which it competes - the Section 6 DD league - will become nonexistent after this school year.
"If we are going to have a football team next year, we are going to have to combine," Lictus said in a previous interview. "With respect to (varsity) football, what the board has decided to do is proceed with a merged program with any school that wants to merge within the Panama/Clymer/Sherman group. So, it's an either-or-type situation. Because of low numbers last year, the JV team was combined with Sherman and they're in that position now at the varsity level."
Lictus said the Clymer board agreed to enter into discussions with Panama and Sherman, as Clymer has successfully arranged multiple shared sports agreements with the districts, including golf, cross country track and JV football.
Kaine Kelly, Sherman superintendent, said this specific shared sports agreement has been many years in the making.
"This football merger shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody in either community, and definitely not to those who work in the schools," Kelly said. "We've seen this merger coming for the past seven years. When I was a new principal at Sherman, we sat with the other two groups and talked about combining programs because we saw the writing on the wall in terms of numbers."
Kelly said the merger was initially staved off by Section 6's creation of the DD league in which the smaller rural districts compete. Now, however, he said the districts find themselves in a position in which they are unable to field fully operational football programs, particularly at the JV level, regardless of whether the DD league will continue into next season.
"By putting these two programs together, we're going to have a full program for kids to play in," Kelly said. "For us, the idea of sports mergers isn't anything new. For a long time, we've had the core belief that mergers are to save programs and to provide students with increased opportunities; not to create a competitive edge."
Although sports mergers within Section 6 are generally only established on a year-to-year basis, Kelly said this agreement is considered to be a long-term arrangement due to declining enrollment numbers across the board.
While Panama is a part of the three-way shared sports agreement at the JV level, the district chose to remain independent at the varsity level. Based on the projected participation numbers for next year, Lictus said Panama's varsity football program would continue with the status quo.
"We have the numbers to support a team and, as long as we do, we want our school to represent itself," Lictus said.