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Barker/Roy-Hart teams hope for power in numbers Combined varsity, modified squads to make football more affordable, competitive

In recent years, football players at Royalton-Hartland and Barker schools never had a problem getting playing time.

With only 20 or so players on the roster, most played offense, defense and special teams, barely stepping off the field during practice and games.

But this season, football players are welcoming the idea of a little less playing time, since it means the team's roster will be twice as big as before as the two high schools combine their varsity and modified programs to overcome declining enrollment and financial struggles in both programs.

"I think it's great," said Barker senior Josh Haight during the team's second week of practice. "Last year, our practices were kind of limited because we really didn't have enough people to run 11-on-11 all the time. This year we can do a lot more stuff."

The decision to combine both programs, which last year had a combined record of 3-11, was an easy one, said Barker Superintendent Roger Klatt.

"I think we saw the promise that a combined team would have for each respective school. It was really a team effort on the leadership of the districts and the Board of Education was very supportive."

Last fall, when school administrators from Barker were putting together the budget for the 2010-11 school year, the decision was made to eliminate the junior varsity program. At Roy-Hart, similar budget issues led to the varsity football team's elimination. The Roy-Hart Sports Boosters Club stepped up to save the team, raising more than $20,000 in donations that combined with team budget cuts to give the Rams another year of competition.

In the spring, with both teams expecting to face the same challenges again, the two schools began meeting to discuss combining the programs, said Barker Athletic Director David Carson.

"We talked over the details to see if [Roy-Hart] was financially able to split the costs with us," said Carson.

It was.

"Both teams already had football so from a financial standpoint it made sense," said Carson. "You can offer the same thing at a reduced cost."

Practices will flip-flop every week between the two schools' fields. Home games for the new combined team, which will compete in Class A of Section V, will be split between the two schools -- two games in Barker and two games at Roy-Hart's Bruno Pacini Field in Middleport.

It isn't every day a football team gets two homecomings in one season but the Barker/Roy-Hart players will when Barker hosts the first homecoming game on Oct. 1 against Holley and keeps the ceremonies going in Roy-Hart for homecoming No. 2 on Oct. 14 vs. Notre Dame.

Barker coach Bill Bruning was named head coach for the varsity team, while Roy-Hart coach Don Baker takes on assistant coaching duties.

Bruning and the players say the new, bigger team is helping to raise the level of play.

"It's a lot more kids to work with and a lot more competition," Bruning said.

"This year we all have to work hard because we have to earn our spots on the team," said Haight, the Barker senior.

Two already established teams coming together to form one means building new relationships and learning new roles.

"The teams have become closer and we're really developing good team chemistry on the field," said quarterback Connor Baker, a senior at Roy-Hart.

"We've all bonded and we've been having a good time," said Haight. "So far, there hasn't been any issues. We've all been getting along."

As an underclassman, Haight took snaps at quarterback and also played at the wide receiver, long-snapper, safety and kicker positions. This year he said he'll focus mostly on playing wide receiver while still serving as the team's first-string kicker.

"We're allowed to have kids focus more on one position now," said Bruning. "They don't have to play offense, defense, and special teams anymore."

The new team does have an old, familiar feel to it.

Bruning graduated from Roy-Hart in 1988 while Baker is a Barker alumnus.

"You've got people vested in both communities," said Carson. "I feel there's some trust with both of these guys."

"We kind of laugh about it," said Bruning. "We say, 'Isn't this awesome that we get to coach our home schools?' "

email: lmariacher@buffnews.com