A numbers crunch

While football is the headliner, all sports are starting to feel the numbers crunch. While studies show more girls and boys are playing sports in high school, schools are still having a problem fielding competitive teams.

Because of that, you are starting to see more and more schools merge their athletic programs – and not just football. Football gets all the headlines in Western New York. It’s the sports that everyone turns to during the summer.

However, schools now are starting to merge other sports as well. Depew and Cleveland Hill High School have merged their wrestling program, and are looking to do the same with girls’ soccer. Because of injuries and low turnout, Depew was not able to field a team for the playoffs – hence ending their season.

Just recently, North Collins and Eden have been talking about merging its girls’ volleyball programs. Eden already has one of the best volleyball programs in WNY. Merging with North Collins would only make them stronger.

But, this isn’t the first time Eden and North Collins have gotten together. A couple years ago after Eden had to drop their football program, the two schools partnered up to field a team. They won’t be the last school to merge when it comes to football, either.

The numbers have been staggering the last seven years or so when it comes to school in Western New York merging their athletic programs. Seven years there were 24 combined teams. Today, there is 204.

“The real push for the combining of the schools was for the D schools,” stated Section VI Athletic Director Timm Slade. “They were allowed to combine and stay in Class D.”

That is a huge jump in just a short amount time. It also is a trend that doesn’t seem to be dying down at any point in time, either.

Even with new regulations in place to determine BEDS and classifications, schools will merge for the better of the students and programs. But, instead of finding a similar school in size, schools may now look elsewhere. Schools will want to make sure they stay in the classification if they can. For example, under the new rules where a certain percentage is counted toward the BEDS a school like Depew merges with Cleveland Hill, the football program could jump up to an A school schedule.

That would be a big jump for Depew which is a B school and Cleveland Hill which is a C School.

“The combining of schools really changed when the state changed their formula,” stated Slade. “So if Cleve-Hill and Depew were to combine for soccer eight years ago, they would take both their numbers and probably be a AA. But right now they are a C or B.”

Participation in high school football is down 3.5 percent over the past five years, according to the annual survey by the National Association of State High School Federations, or NFHS.

The risks of football have never been more apparent. This past summer, researchers at Boston University said they’d found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of the 202 former football players they studied. The athletes whose brains were donated to the study had played football in the National Football League, college and even high school.

The report doesn’t confirm chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, is common in all football players, because many donors or their families participated in the study because of the players’ troubling symptoms.

Even with the steep decline, a new team is rising from the ashes this year and Health Sciences and WNY Maritime Charter are joining forces to offer football. The fact that a couple schools want to add football is impressive.
But there are obstacles still in the way for the first year program. Right now they know what the color of the uniform and helmets are going to be. They still don’t have a place to play home games or have a place to practice.

However, this wasn’t an off the cuff decision made by the either school. Slade says for the past couple of years Health Science, which also is a charter school in the city of Buffalo, has been talking about adding at least a junior varsity program for the past couple of years.

“For the past two years we have had discussions with Health Sciences Charter School about starting a football program,” explained Slade. “We were informed when WNY Maritime hired a new athletic director that they were going to look at starting football as well. So, Health Sciences and WNY Maritime are going to be an A school this year.”