No public versus private schools matchups, some Thursday night games and one giant Class AA division are among the highlights of the Section VI football schedule released by coordinator Ken Stoldt on Wednesday.
The season kicks off Friday, Sept. 1 with 25 games among Section VI Federation members. The slate includes a clash between reigning section champions Lancaster (Class AA) and Bennett (Class A) at Lancaster.
That is a game between Class AA foes as Bennett not only survived a phase-out plan in which its athletic identity was supposed to fade away but will now move up a division as a merged outfit that includes several other Buffalo Public Schools without teams. Bennett's partners are Olmsted, Middle Early College, East, Lafayette, Riverside and Alternative School.
While last year's late transfer of All-Western New York first team lineman Jeremiah Sanders from South Park to Bishop Timon-St. Jude after Scrimmage Saturday upset several coaches, Stoldt said the section left it up to its member schools as to whether they wanted to fill any non-league dates with Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association programs.
"Neither the section or football committee has made a statement you can't play a Catholic school," Stoldt said.
For at least this season, there won't be any such matchups following a 2016 in which three took place during opening weekend. Three years ago, a rarely seen champion versus champion clash with Canisius visiting then Section VI Class AA champ Jamestown drew roughly 6,000 fans to Strider Field in Jamestown. Both teams went on to win state titles that season.
South Park, which scheduled one private school each of the past four seasons, is using its one non-league opening for a road trip. The Sparks travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. to face Perry Tradition Academy on Saturday, Sept. 16.
A situation that bears monitoring, though, is the number of teams in the area that scheduled Friday night home games. Some of those games may wind up moving to Thursday or Saturday nights because there aren't enough officials to staff all the prime-time games on the same night during most weeks.
As it is, there are three weeks (two, four and five) that feature at least one Thursday game with four slated for Week Five, including a 4:30 p.m. clash at Kenmore West with the Blue Devils facing Williamsville South.
The struggle to find enough officials to cover Friday nights is a trend that could get worse before it gets better. Kenmore East is among the latest teams to make the move from Saturday to Friday night home games as it debuts renovated, fully-lighted Sparky Adams Field after moving its home games to Tonawanda last year. The Bulldogs play their first two games at home, beginning with Week One's 7 p.m. clash against Grand Island.
"Not many (teams) want to play on Saturdays," Stoldt said.
Meanwhile there are alignment changes with perhaps the biggie being Class AA moving from a two-division format to one 11-team division in which each team plays six league games. Some schools won't face each other, as eight teams make the playoffs.
That happens often in Class A, which has tiebreakers in place to determine playoff seeding in the event teams didn't face each other during the regular season. The difference: Class A is two eight-team divisions in which four from each make the playoffs.
"We're going to give this a try," Stoldt said.
Other items of note:
-- Riverside has dropped football because of lack of numbers. The Frontiers only had enough players last year to field a varsity team even though they were merged with four other schools. Riverside players from I-Prep and daVinci will be absorbed by Class AA returnee Hutch-Tech, which also draws students from Emerson, Performing Arts and City Honors. The rest of its players – including Riverside ones – are now part of Bennett, which moves up to Class AA after graduating the core of a lineup that helped it reach three straight sectional finals in three different classifications (A, B and C).
-- The loss of Riverside means the Section VI Federation will now have 64 programs.
-- Williamsville North and Niagara-Wheatfield remain in Class AA after flip-flopping between AA and Class A the past few seasons.
-- Kenmore West, a Class AA finalist two seasons ago drops down to Class A North. It will be in the same division as rival Kenmore East. West hosts the annual rivalry game Saturday, Oct. 14 at Crosby Field
-- Maple Grove and Chautauqua Lake may have had merged junior varsity programs last year but for the second year in a row both will be solo varsity outfits. State Class D runner-up Maple Grove and Ch. Lake are part of a nine-team Class D division. Chautauqua Lake drops down from Class C South.
-- Salamanca and Silver Creek/Forestville swap spots with Salamanca dropping from Class C South to D and the Black Knights moving up a class.
Section VI division alignments:
Class AA: Niagara Falls, Lancaster, Hutch-Tech, Bennett, Orchard Park, Clarence, Lockport, Frontier, Jamestown, Williamsville North, Niagara Wheatfield.
Class A North: Kenmore West. North Tonawanda, Williamsville East, Sweet Home, Williamsville South, Grand Island, Kenmore East, Starpoint.
Class A South: West Seneca West, Hamburg, McKinley, West Seneca East, South Park, Amherst, Lake Shore, Iroquois.
Class B1: East Aurora/Holland, Pioneer, Cheektowaga, Burgard, Lewiston-Porter, Maryvale.
Class B2: Dunkirk, Olean, Springville, Albion, Fredonia/Westfield/Brocton, Depew.
Class B3: Lackawanna, Newfane, Alden, Medina, Tonawanda, Roy-Hart/Barker.
Class C South: Falconer/Cassadaga Valley, Gowanda/Pine Valley, Southwestern, Allegany-Limestone, Silver Creek/Forestville.
Class C North: Eden/North Collins, Akron, JFK, Wilson, Cleveland Hill.
Class D: Salamanca, Chautauqua Lake, Portville Randolph, Catt./Little Valley, Franklinville/Ellicottville, Maple Grove, Frewsburg, Panama/Sherman/Clymer.