Maple Grove and Chautauqua Lake will be going their separate ways in varsity football for the 2016 season, but will remain a combined program at the junior varsity level.
In response to being placed in a higher classification that the program's combined BED numbers and having its appeal to the state denied, Bemus Point School Board officials said residents supported Maple Grove going on its own as a Class D team this season instead of being a combined team playing in Class B with Chautauqua Lake. While the combined BED numbers for the combined program added up to a C classification, a Section VI committee that oversees merged programs opted to bump up Maple Grove/CL to Class B because the program reached the Section VI Class C final last year.
Maple Grove/CL reached the sectional final each of its three seasons as a combined program, winning the title the past two seasons. The Thunder Dragons dominated most opponents the past two seasons at Class C, except for Bennett, which it beat in the sectional final by a point in overtime last November. However Bennett, which switched merger partners and also had its classification appeal denied, will be a Class A school this season -- a classification it probably could have competed in last season.
Maple Grove will likely have a small roster near 25 players, while Chautauqua Lake hopes to field a team of 30. CL has just enough students enrolled to be considered Class C, according to athletic director Josh Liddell.
"Since the beginning of the whole process we have always had positive parent and community support and the full support of our board of education," Liddell said. "I have been extremely proud of how Chautauqua Lake has handled the adverse situation. Our focus now will be on making sure our CL student-athletes have a great coaching staff and all the resources they need to be successful next year. I have full confidence that the CL and Ripley community will rally around our team and coaches specifically knowing that we were placed in this position last minute."
While the programs will remain merged at junior varsity, Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer said that doesn't guarantee there will be enough players to field a team. He expects to have five players normally ticketed for JV up on varsity just for depth and practice purposes. Maple Grove had 27 prospects sign up for varsity and 16 for JV. That would leave 10-11 players to potentially play JV with Ch./Lake counterparts.
Fischer said the main reason parents favored splitting varsity is because of what would stop the section's competition committee from moving the program to Class A should it reach or win the Class B final.
While the programs will merge for 2017, the same questions could come up again SHOULD EITHER team reach a sectional final this season.
"I hope the section is going to be looking at other mergers like the dominance of Falconer wrestling (merged with Cassadaga Valley)," Fischer said. "The state is encouraging people to merge but don't win."