By Keith McShea
At last Wednesday’s Buffalo Board of Education meeting, a vote on a proposal to merge the district’s eight football teams into four was pushed back to tonight.
The board should push it back again — about three or four years.
The move is too drastic and comes too soon, and includes no tangible evidence that it will benefit students. It could even hurt them.
We are only three seasons removed from the Buffalo Public Schools’ decision to dissolve the Harvard Cup and enter Section VI. City schools have struggled overall, which was to be expected. However, they have competed.
How about we give it a few more seasons before we give up on the students of Buffalo, along with eight school traditions that go back about a century.
The proposal smacks of a copout, a throw-your-hands-up desperation move. By definition, it gives up on its students and its individual schools. Of course things are tough in the city. They’ve been tough for a long time. And still, you name any of the football programs, and I easily can think of how they’ve had a positive impact on the field as members of Section VI.
However, the biggest concern here is off the field.
If passed, this proposal would mean saying a football farewell to the McKinley Macks, Riverside Frontiers, East Panthers, Hutch-Tech Engineers, Burgard Bulldogs, South Park Sparks, Bennett Tigers and I-Prep/Grover Presidents.
In their place? North, South, East, West. Nicknames? To be announced. Traditions? Nonexistent. Attachment to one’s own school? Zero.
What is the objective of high school sports? To give young people a chance to compete, to learn something about themselves and what it means to be part of a team, to take pride in their school, to have fun. When you turn eight football programs into four, there is no way around it: You are reducing those opportunities.
And those opportunities are obviously most needed in the Buffalo City Schools. High school sports give young people a reason to go to class, a reason to reach the end of the day. That not only goes for players, but cheerleaders and classmates who want to root on their friends and support their school. The positive effects sports have on those who play them can be life-changing. But it’s not just about rallying a team, but a student body, their teachers, the school staff. Football, foremost among high school sports, can pull an entire building together.
Those kind of things should only be sacrificed if there is nowhere else to go. We’re not at that point.
What is the only guaranteed benefit to this plan? Here’s a big shocker: It saves money. I can understand how that would be attractive to any administrator who has to wrestle with a budget, but any cost savings here comes at too high a price.
The proposal by athletic director Aubrey Lloyd lists seven “current issues with the football program:” lack of student interest, practice attendance, players having to play both ways, the quality of coaches, teams unable to compete, lack of skilled players to the point where it is dangerous to play, and schools not being able to field JV teams.
Among these, the JV factor is the only clear advantage to downsize. Plenty of teams have players going both ways. The challenges of attendance, interest and coaching are not new.
Unable to compete? It’s just not true.
Burgard spent the entire season, and most of the last two, in The News’ small school top 10 poll. McKinley has been a frequent member of the large school top 10. South Park just missed the playoffs and has made great strides. Riverside won AA North in 2010. Bennett won a playoff game last year. East memorably beat Cheektowaga in its first season. Hutch-Tech has also improved despite its record (1-8) — I’ve seen it. Grover Cleveland won a division title in 2010, and the school’s transition to becoming I-Prep is mostly behind a drop to this year’s 0-8 mark (in the state’s toughest Class D league).
The teams can be competitive on their own. Some might think that merging the teams would lead to more victories. One board member last week said, “Winning solves a lot of problems, folks.”
That’s a misguided thought, and here’s why: Because the proposed programs combine several schools, the resulting enrollment numbers would mean the four programs would play in Class AA, the largest classification in Section VI and the state. That’s the home of Orchard Park, Jamestown and other perennial powers.
Would one of the four combined city schools make the eight-team playoffs out of a field of 13? Probably. Would a city team make the semifinals? Possibly. Would they make the championship game at The Ralph? Would they win a title? Those last two are huge question marks, folks.
The proposal before the board is an extreme move, one that should be a last resort.
If there is any extreme move to be made, for the reasons listed by Lloyd, that move would be for the Buffalo Public Schools to withdraw from Section VI football and return to its own league, where programs would be on more equal footing, JV roster sizes would be less of an issue, the competition would be better and more students would have the opportunity to participate (which is what this should be all about, right?). Programs would experience school pride, decades-long ties to their community, and a grand city celebration on Thanksgiving.
If you want to do something bold tonight, bring back the Harvard Cup.
Around the halls
• Next week’s Prep Talk will reveal the final Power 10 of the fall season, while the first Power 10 of the winter will debut.
• PrepTalkTV Weekly makes its 2013 debut tonight. The live video show at buffalonews.com, co-hosted by Lauren Mariacher and myself, will include interview guests, highlights, analysis and more and will be followed by my live chat at the Prep Talk blog.