The East Aurora School District is giving serious thought to a joint football program with neighboring Holland High School but is carefully weighing cost, liability and transportation issues that would have to be worked out.
Officials from both districts will meet Friday for their first formal session to discuss the merger idea, which both East Aurora and Holland recently applied for by filing paperwork with the Erie County Interscholastic Conference and Section VI.
The East Aurora School Board on Wednesday discussed the idea, but board members had many questions about how such a joint program would be structured, how the financial obligations would be worked out and whether the East Aurora Blue Devils identity would remain, with Holland players as part of the team, and if not, whether the districts would form a combined team with a new name.
“There’s a lot of logistical issues,” Superintendent Brian D. Russ said.
Board member Eric D. Sweet, who has been pushing the idea, said he wants to see East Aurora’s varsity football program saved, citing its struggles last year. In one case, there were only 15 players available for a game.
“Let’s try to preserve the program but join with our neighboring district,” he said. “I’ve always thought of football as one of the sports carrying the most school spirit, especially when you go out under the lights on a Friday night.”
Sweet urged the two districts to talk the idea out. “Let’s be cautious but have a bit of an open mind,” he said.
East Aurora officials noted that with the district’s declining enrollment and Holland being too small to support a team, it might be the perfect time to join forces for a combined football program. If the two districts find a way to form a single football team, combined sports efforts could broaden, as additional smaller districts face falling enrollment and search for ways to pool resources in a tough economy.
Russ noted that the door could be opened for a similar approach to wrestling because East Aurora isn’t always able to fill all the weight classes. He also mentioned the possibility of track and field since Holland has an indoor track.
“I think for every sport out there that is merged, we could have a new one knocking at the door,” board member MaryBeth Covert said.
Covert said that in the case of football, it’s important that Holland be able to help fund it. No cost estimates have been disclosed, but Holland’s School Board vice president last week said that if his board approved the combined football program, it would have to be without financial help from the district.
“I don’t think we can merge with Holland’s [youth] program. We’d have to merge with the Holland School District,” Covert said.
Board President Daniel P. Brunson said the costs and policies governing such a program need to be spelled out. “I’m certainly not opposed to exploring this, but we should be very careful to set all the ducks in line, so any subsequent plans have good [precedent].”
“The primary focus should not be to save the football program,” said East Aurora board member Jessica B. Armbrust, “but to lay the groundwork for possibly working with another district.”