When the Buffalo Board of Education announced plans Wednesday night to combine International Prep and Middle Early College, it wasn’t the only merger on the table.
At its meeting, the board was also looking at a move to consolidate the district’s eight football teams into four, for competitive, personnel and financial reasons. The realignment would be in place for the fall 2013 season.
In a 14-page proposal, district Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd cited several difficulties that city schools have had since joining their public school counterparts in the Section VI Federation three years ago.
Lloyd said that there is a lack of school interest, that players aren’t consistently coming to practice or games and that the number of participants is down. In August 2010, 535 athletes competed, while in 2012, the number dipped to 428.
Other issues that Lloyd cited were a lack of skilled players making the game dangerous for some, junior varsity programs on the edge of folding, a difficulty of finding enough quality coaches, and a lack of success in the federation.
James A. Williams to disband the league in favor of joining the federation.
“The Harvard Cup was one of the best, oldest traditions we had in Buffalo,” Lloyd said when reached by phone Thursday night. “We love our old-timers, and I’ve learned to appreciate them. We value tradition, honor it, cherish it, and will never forget it, but we need to be responsive to what the needs of our students are today. We want a very healthy, competitive sports program.”
Lloyd’s plan would create four districtwide teams based on geography; each new team would be built of players from three or more city schools. Among the casualties of the merger would be each school’s football identity, some going back 100 years. Instead of being called by a school name, the teams would be known as Buffalo North, Buffalo West, Buffalo East and Buffalo South.
Buffalo East would have the largest number of schools, combining players from six. Based on their new enrollment numbers, all the teams would play in the federation’s Class AA classification.
The Harvard Cup was disbanded in part to give city kids a chance to compete for a sectional title at Ralph Wilson Stadium and ultimately play for a state title at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Neither has happened.
In 2010, city schools were a combined 36-45. And 2011 was worse, with city schools going 21-60. Last fall, the record wasn’t much better, 20-52. Among the eight teams in 2012, one went winless while three others won only one game.
“It was evident at the end of last season talking with the coaching staffs and players, you could see the frustration in their eyes on the sidelines, students playing both offense and defense, coaches having very little options [with substitutions,]” Lloyd said. “It’s time to take a different approach. We don’t want to stand there and say, ‘Let’s take our lumps every year,’ we need to respond. The working models are out there – Syracuse, Rochester. We believe this is the best plan.”
Cost savings would be seen in coaches salaries and football equipment, plus the number of games would decrease by 47 percent (120 games, compared with 64). But part of the money saved would go toward an increase in cost of transportation for practices. A shuttle bus would pick up students from their school and take them to practice. Students would continue their current practice of taking a Metro bus to get home.
Jason Kolb has coached Burgard High School for the last 11 seasons, making him the longest-tenured coach in the city. He said the proposed changes would have his full support if a multitude of intangibles were addressed.
In Kolb’s view, city teams already field combined teams, and it hasn’t translated into victories. What happens to the volunteers on his coaching staff when the paid guys come in from other schools?
“They bleed blue; they’re Burgard people,” Kolb said.
If he has players from four schools, how can he be at four schools at once? the coach added.
Burgard finished 6-3 last year and was one game removed from winning its division. His program is healthy.
“Things are just getting good for me; now I don’t know what to expect,” Kolb said. “There are unknown factors I’m worried about. We were only three years into this. I’m not against this, but the lines of communication have to be there.”
Section VI Federation Co-Chairman Ken Stoldt of Akron said his committee doesn’t have a vote on the city proposal. He added that the federation is interested in doing what’s best for city football and that he would meet with Lloyd to discuss parameters. He said he’s aware of the city’s struggles with varsity numbers and forfeits on the JV level.
“For me to say I understand the inner workings of the city, and the problems they face, I couldn’t even speculate,” Stoldt said. “It’s a lot different than what we deal with in the suburbs. We’re going to do what we can to support them. It’s never an easy decision; when they left the Harvard Cup, there’s still a lot of people upset because of the strong tradition.”
Lloyd contends that a merger would increase participation, grow JV programs, make teams more competitive, build relationships across the district and increase player accountability.
Following Lloyd’s presentation, the School Board seemed ready to approve the proposal on the spot but, after some discussion, decided to wait until next Wednesday to vote.
Referring to the competitive strength of consolidated teams, at-large board member John B. Licata said, “Winning solves a lot of problems, folks.”
Proposed consolidation of Buffalo school football teams
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News Staff Reporter Mary B. Pasciak contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org