The offseason for high school football may seem long to some, but no one has waited longer than the kids from Holland.
Five varsity players from this rural town located on Route 16, made history on Monday’s opening day of practice, joining players from neighboring East Aurora to make one team.
Cole Schlenker, Jake Rickettson, Pat Connelly, Dylan Lodowski and Ian Securd became the answer to the trivia question – who were the first boys from Holland to play high school football? They joined their new teammates in day-long conditioning drills while the EA coaches shouted, “we’re looking for leaders out here! New team, new season!”
Prior to this season the only outlet Holland boys had to play football was the local Holland Raiders Little Loop league. “After my last game for the varsity Little Loop, I thought I’d never play again,” said Schlenker, a junior linebacker. “That was just the worst feeling. After I heard the news, it was what I had prayed for.”
The Holland School District was centralized in 1933 but never has fielded a football team. The issue of whether taxpayers would fund the sport has long been a source of controversy in the tight-knit community of approximately 3,400. The merger was approved in May and plans quickly took hold.
East Aurora agreed to welcome the Holland players if they would raise one-third of EA’s football budget, a total of $12,000. Parents, players and the Little Loop league got busy organizing fundraisers, soliciting donations and having raffles. Nearly half of the money was raised by selling a T-shirt which had names of sponsors on the back and the words: “Holland/East Aurora Football, first class, 2013.”
East Aurora/Holland aren’t the only school districts joining forces this year. Declining enrollments and tight purse strings have also precipitated marriages between Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake and Silver Creek/Forestville. I-Prep Grover Cleveland, which fielded a team in Class D last year, has combined with Riverside. This will be the third year of the Barker/Roy-Hart merger and the fourth year of Ellicottville/West Valley.
East Aurora’s roster numbers were so dire last year, it had to forfeit a game, finishing with a 1-6 record. Two years ago the roster had 22 players, last year it was 19. The state association will allow East Aurora to remain in Class B even with the addition of the Holland players.
East Aurora coach Tim Wade said the Holland players, especially seniors who lack experience, will likely focus on learning one position. “The nice thing I think,” he said of the EA students, “is the players are going to have competition. That’s something we haven’t had in a while. Guys were just basically handed positions, and now everyone is going to have to work for them.”
• With a long tradition of winning, Maple Grove would seem like one of the last programs that would struggle. The Red Dragons were 9-1 last year. They made their 14th appearance at Ralph Wilson Stadium, losing to eventual state champ Randolph. They won the Section title in 2011.
Red Dragons coach Curt Fischer doesn’t know only X’s and O’s, he was also smart enough to be proactive when he saw the dwindling roster numbers. He remembered coach Rod Rohl had tremendous teams at Hinsdale before its program was suddenly dropped.
“Sometimes people think they’re invincible,” said Fischer. “If we wouldn’t have done this we’d probably be without football in two years. It can happen in a snap of a finger.”
Fischer said without the Chautauqua Lake players he would have been forced to put his JV players in situations in which they didn’t belong, which would have prevented them from learning properly.
Nine players from Chautauqua Lake will put this year’s Maple Grove roster at a healthy 26. Part of the agreement is the team will play two home games on Chautauqua Lake’s field and wear a jersey that is more silver and blue than Maple Grove’s traditional red.
“For me coaching, it’s like starting over, it’s awesome,” said Fischer, now in his 23rd season. “We’ve given up a little bit of the Red Dragon tradition, something we built over 20 years, and that was a special, but we had to put the kids first, which is why we basically did this.”
• Twelve players from Forestville will make the Silver Creek program happier and healthier.
“We would have been in a situation of playing freshmen on the varsity who had no business being there,” said Silver Creek coach Sean Helmer.
In one of his first coaching moves, Helmer invited Forestville coach Scot Greenough to join his staff. As soon as the merger between the schools, located six miles apart, was approved Helmer said he got the players doing things together, lifting weights, just hanging out.
Silver Creek will be able to save the condition of its field by utilizing Forestville’s. The schedule includes a homecoming game at Forestville.
“This was absolutely the right thing to do. I’m loving it so far,” said Helmer.