Holland High School may finally get a football team – but only if its athletes line up beside their counterparts from East Aurora High School.
Holland is too small to support a team, and East Aurora’s enrollment is dropping, so some think it makes sense for the neighboring districts to team up.
The two districts have applied for a combined football program, filing necessary paperwork with the Erie County Interscholastic Conference and Section VI.
It would be a similar arrangement to what now exists with other local districts that have merged or combined hockey teams.
“It’s only for the sport of football,” said Matt Adams, Holland’s athletic director.
Until now, East Aurora had resisted a suggested merger because doing so would have bumped it up to Class A – putting it in competition with schools almost twice their size, according to Fred Thornley, East Aurora’s athletic director.
“That was the big stumbling block,” Thornley said.
But everything changed in late January, when the executive committee of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association approved a revision to its regulation about combining teams.
Instead of counting 100 percent of a district’s enrollment in ninth through 11th grades to determine the school’s competitive class, a graduated scale will be used. For East Aurora, which currently competes in Class B, that percentage is 30, according to the association’s website.
The change, a two-year pilot program beginning with the 2013-14 school year, is a new wrinkle in the not-so-new practice of combining students from districts to field athletic teams.
In 2010, the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation was born, featuring combined teams, including Orchard Park/Frontier and Sweet Home/Amherst. The Monsignor Martin Association’s team represents several Catholic schools.
Both the ECIC and Section VI must approve the proposed football merger, according to Ken Stoldt, co-chairman of the Section VI Football Federation.
The two school boards also must approve it.
The East Aurora School Board is expected to talk about the plan Wednesday, and board member Eric Sweet says it’s important to consider the change.
At a January board meeting, Sweet – whose son played football for East Aurora – noted that with declining enrollment at East Aurora, it may become increasingly difficult to field a varsity football team without raiding the junior varsity ranks.
While revisiting the issue during a meeting in February, he said, “This is a very physical sport, and when there’s a shortage of kids, they start playing both sides of the ball. Fatigue gets extreme, and the injury risk increases.”
While the details have yet to be worked out, money was – and remains – a point of contention for Holland, which has never had a football program. The closest it came was in 2000, when the School Board included funding in the annual budget referendum. But district voters soundly defeated it, and years of contentious debate followed.
During last week’s board meeting, Vice President Ronda Strauss said that if the board approves the combined program, it would have to be without financial help from the cash-strapped district.
“I’m excited about it,” said Adams, Holland’s athletic director. “As long as we can make it work financially, I think it would be a very wise investment.”
Meanwhile, Holland Raiders Youth Football and Cheerleading, which views the merger as an opportunity for its participants to progress from league to high school play, is offering to help raise money for the program.
“We haven’t been asked to do anything at all so far,” said Brian D. Jones, president of the Raiders organization. “We wanted to make our School Board aware that we do have adults willing to facilitate making this happen.”
The Raiders organization is looking to hold fundraising activities that could benefit the program.
“We are not going to fund it ourselves,” said Jones, who emphasized that he doesn’t want donors to the Raiders organization worrying about their money going elsewhere.
Southtowns Correspondent Eileen Werbitsky and News Staff Reporter Karen Robinson contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org