Who’s to blame for Section VI being the last section in the state to release its football schedule?
I embarked on this gargantuan fact-finding mission determined to find a target to point my finger at to bring some comfort to those who have been afflicted, scarred and/or generally annoyed by the fact that it’s almost May – blockbuster movie season, folks – yet there are public school teams, including the returning Eden/North Collins program, who have no idea who they will be facing during opening weekend.
My findings have led me to conclude that finger-pointing, in addition to being just mean, doesn’t solve anything. A combination of circumstances has resulted in this situation reaching this point.
In case you missed it, two merged schools are appealing their classification status for the 2016 season. Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake wants to remain in Class C but has been bumped up to B by the section’s competition committee on the basis that the Thunder Dragons made it to a sectional final last season. Maple Grove/CL actually is a two-time defending Section VI Class C champion.
The team MG/CL beat last season, Bennett, is disputing being a Class A school because the BED efficiency numbers, the percentage of students taken from each school that’s part of a merged team, add up to Bennett/Olmsted/Middle Early College/East being a Class B school. However, since the Tigers lost in the sectional final, the competition crew also bumped them up a class.
The state heard the appeals Monday and a decision is expected in writing shortly. Depending on how the state rules, that will determine just how many, if any, adjustments must be made to the section’s first draft of the schedule before it can release it for the schools and public.
While Section VI football chairman Ken Stoldt remains hopeful the schedule can be released sometime next week, signs point toward that being a best-case scenario. That’s because the chatter going around is should Maple Grove/CL lose its appeal, that program would consider ending its merger, with Maple Grove competing on its own in Class D and Chautauqua Lake entering Class C should it have enough players to field a team.
Maple Grove Athletic Director Kathy Burnett said she wasn’t at liberty to discuss the matter, adding “that’s still all up in the air.”
Chautauqua Lake counterpart Josh Liddell seems like he’d be in favor of remaining a merged program.
“No matter which way the appeal goes, I just want to make sure every kid has an opportunity to play,” Liddell said. “Over the last three years we’ve developed a pretty successful football program with Maple Grove and it’s my hope we can continue the combination. There’s been a lot of effort put forth by both school districts and communities to have a combined team. That would be something we’d work to continue.
“When we originally combined, we combined for the right reasons – student safety and a continued opportunity to play football for kids at both school districts. The combination has put two great communities together for a common goal.”
Buffalo Public Schools Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd said the Bennett-combined team, simply known as Bennett, would play in Class A should it lose its appeal.
While it’d be easy to point fingers at the merged outfits for fighting their classifications, each program is trying to do what it believes is in its players’ best competitive interests.
Don’t get me wrong. With the success MG/CL has had in Class C the past two seasons, I’m curious to see if the Thunder Dragons could contend for the Class B title against a field of contenders that includes reigning sectional champion Cheektowaga, Burgard and Alden. But keep in mind, MG/CL likely would struggle to have a 30-man lineup while Cheektowaga has enough depth on its team that some athletes only play one way instead of both ways.
The only thing to really boo is the process lasting so long, but there’s a reason for that, too. Remember, Fredonia’s future was in doubt until February, when its proposed merger with the Westfield/Brocton football program was approved by the Fredonia school board. The Fredonia/Westfield/Brocton team is expected to be a Class B-size outfit.
Also, while some had either emailed or verbally announced plans to section brass by the merged-team deadline, the section still had to wait for the official paper work to arrive. Only then could the appeals process begin for any disgruntled parties.
Stoldt admits the section could start the appeals process a little earlier, which should help since merged programs seem to be becoming the chic way for schools with low football-participation numbers to continue providing playing opportunities for their student-athletes.
Hopefully, that’s the big takeaway from this fiasco. Start the process early and keep this delay from rearing its ugly head again.
Otherwise, we’ll point you out.