In an effort to keep some small-school football programs afloat, a number of Section II schools have decided to pool their resources.
And that merging of former opponents could become more prevalent, according to Section II football coordinator Gary Vanderzee.
“It’s not just Section II,” said Vanderzee, who is also the head coach at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk. “It’s going on around the state.
“Times being what they are, with budgets and everything, I think we’re going to see more of it.”
Washington County neighbors Cambridge and Salem became the latest to opt for having their schools’ varsity football teams play as one, when the two school boards gave their approval earlier in the week.
While Cambridge has been a perennial sectional winner or finalist, the Generals have had trouble recently getting enough eligible players to meet the state mandate of 16 for practices and games.
“The best thing to come from this is that it gives the returning Salem players a chance to play football this fall,” said Vanderzee of the Cambridge/Salem marriage, which, for now, is for one year only. “From my point of view, we want to give kids who want to play football a chance to play.”
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons and Saratoga Central Catholic combined last fall, and this fall, Catholic Central will join to make a Holy Trinity. The Class C team will use Schenectady’s Bishop Gibbons as its home base.
Schoburg, a blending of Schoharie and Duanesburg athletes, made its full varsity debut, as well, in 2013. This fall, Lake George will take on some football players from neighboring Hadley-Luzerne. Those two merged entities are also in Class C.
Fort Edward and Argyle have a working relationship for a number of sports, with Argyle students becoming part of the Flying Forts’ Class C football program.
Hadley-Luzerne hasn’t fielded a team in over 30 years; Argyle’s football lineage consists of eight- and six-man teams. The Scots have not offered the sport since 1974.
Vanderzee said it’s up to the schools and teams involved to make logistical decisions concerning practice and game sites.
“There are some you kind of worry about, like the BKW kids traveling,” he said.
The late April date for the Cambridge/Salem merger came about as late as Vanderzee would like, as he is responsible for putting together the regular-season schedule.
“There’s a mandate covering when mergers are supposed to be done,” he said. “It’s supposed to be done May 1, but I tell teams that are looking at the possibility of merging to let me know in February, so I can try to set the schedule.”
Vanderzee did, in fact, already release a schedule for this fall, one that included Salem as a separate entity. In fact, Week 1 had Salem playing at Cambridge,
Vanderzee has made contacts downstate to help the other Class D teams fill what is now a hole in their schedules.
“I was able to get in contact with the Section IV schedule maker, and have put our coaches in contact with them,” he said. “It’s up to each school to take it from there.”
One option Vanderzee doesn’t foresee is a move to eight-man football.
“Salem had explored the idea, but there aren’t enough teams,” said Vanderzee. “It would take a while to establish new teams to play eight-man.”
Vanderzee hopes this will be the last of any moves.
“I hope so, but you never know what will happen come August,” he said. “There could be another team that ends up being short-handed.”
In recent seasons, some teams, such as Saratoga Catholic and Johnstown, have ended the season prematurely when they fell below the 16-player mandate. That’s another trend Vanderzee would like to see end.
“There’s a penalty for that, but it’s hard to enforce it,” Vanderzee said. “Schools play the safety card, saying they are concerned about the welfare of their athletes.
“I could be a bully, but I don’t want it to come to that, especially when it comes to kids’ safety.
“The bottom line for me, with mergers, is that I would like any kid who wants to play football to have that opportunity.”