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Fredonia reaching out to Westfield, Brocton for possible merger

December 17, 2015
By Gib Snyder III ( , Westfield Republican

Due to low numbers and injuries this past season, as well as a not-so-sunny outlook for next season, Fredonia Central School may have to find a school willing to merge with its football program.

The Hillbillies began this past season with 22 players on the roster, but injuries limited that number to just 14 by the time they had lost to Pioneer in the semifinals of the Class B Chuck Funke Memorial Bowl Series.

"A lot of that has to do with the concussion thing," Fredonia varsity coach Mike Marshall said of the low number of players by the end of the year. "We had a few kids who had headaches after practice, or a game, that went to the doctor and when they do that, they are automatically out for two weeks. We want to have the athletes safe before they can compete in anything. You need more players than in the 20s to participate. I'd say you need in the low 30s just to make it worth your while in terms of scrimmaging and practicing and things like that."

Fredonia had an option to play in a game the following week, but had to decline rather than bring up more players from the jayvee team.

"At the end of the game against Pioneer, we had 14 players and you need 16 to field a team," Marshall said. "We had a team vote and decided to stop, because we already had three freshman and one sophomore, and the juniors and seniors thought they'd just get too beat up with who we had to play. So, we decided to call it a season and I agreed with them."

"We had to opt out," Fredonia Athletic Director Scott Stutzman said. "Which the Section knew well in advance that we were having a difficult time due to injuries and low numbers. So we started looking at the numbers for next year and some of the sophomores that might play up and we've determined that we're going to be stretching to get 22 kids. And that's if every kid that signed up, shows up. Which usually, those that sign up, we do lose a few each year that don't show up to play.

"They just don't have the commitment to the program and that happens every year," Stutzman added. "Maybe you get 40 kids to sign up one year and 30 show up and the next year you have 30 sign up and 28 show up. Over the years, it just seems like it's diminishing, the number of students that show up to be a part of the football program."

As for its current situation, Fredonia will look to reach out to Westfield, Brocton and archrival Dunkirk.

"Those are the ones we're at right now," Stutzman said.

"Some of the other schools are already merged, so for us, those are the ones we've had the discussions with and the superintendent has met with Westfield and Brocton and I know he's put it out to Dunkirk, or at least said something to the superintendent there.

"And I know they're our neighbors and I know they're our rivals, but when it comes down to it, we have a combined swim program for boys and girls," Stutzman added. "I don't know what the best fit is. I don't have those answers, because, again, those are very difficult things for the students, and the community. And I want to make it clear that I don't have the answers for what's best here, but I know that I want to make sure that we're able to salvage a football team. I know the game is important to the kids and the community."

A merger with the Wolverines and Bulldogs might make the most sense, at least in regard to the possible backlash from the communities and alumni if the Hillbillies were to combine with the Marauders. But that will not keep Fredonia from extending the offer to Dunkirk.

"Some people will object to it strongly," Marshall said. "And some people will embrace it. The biggest thing is people have to understand is their individual identity will probably be gone, because if something happens, it wouldn't be Hillbillies against Marauders anymore, it would have to be something similar to what the hockey team did and call it something like the Steelers or whatever. I can't imagine what it would be called, but those are the types of things we have to focus on. We'd have to become unified and it would probably be difficult for the first couple of years."

Another option might be to combine programs with Silver Creek and Forestville, which have played together for the past three seasons.

"I think so," Marshall said of whether or not Fredonia should consider merging with Silver Creek and Forestville. "But I'm not sure logistics-wise, and stuff like that, if that would work. But yeah, that could be a possibility in the future also.

"What I think they are doing now is just exploring different options," Marshall said. "Then the decisions will be made. They have to be made pretty soon, because usually by the end of January, they start making out the schedules. And mergers have to be approved and stuff like that by the league, before they can go forward. But hopefully the merger situation will help prevent the Eden problem that happened this year, where people bowed out at the last minute and kind of left the league upside down."

If the Hillbillies do, in fact, merge its team with another, it is not going to be just a one-year thing. At least according to Marshall and Stutzman.

"We are going to look at it thoroughly," Stutzman said. "I don't believe in a knee-jerk decision and I know that the school boards and the superintendents don't either. So I think thorough discussions at this point in time are what need to happen. And then I guess you go from there and find out what's in the best interest of the program."

"I'm looking for it to be a long-term commitment," Marshall added. "It's not going to be a fly-by-night thing. If we get into something like that, it's got to be 100 percent."

Merging programs, whether it be football, wrestling, swimming or track and field teams, is something the area has seen a lot of over the past decade. It is something done out of necessity, as the population in Chautauqua County has taken a hit as more and more businesses pack up and move elsewhere. However, the idea of merging is not something Marshall is going to fight.

"I think with (Westfield and Brocton's) athletes and our athletes combined, we can finally compete in Class B, as opposed to being the team with the smallest population," Marshall said. "This would give us some more athletes to choose from. Westfield went to states last year in baseball and they had a lot of sophomores and juniors on that team, so I feel that they've got athletes. And I've been keeping track of the Brocton basketball team. They've opened the season pretty successfully, so they definitely have athletes to offer also."

No matter who, or if, Fredonia merges its football program, the process is likely not going to happen overnight.

"I'm sure this will go on for a long time and there will be a lot of discussion," Stutzman said. "But because of this past year with Eden, and there's no fault to Eden, nobody's upset with Eden, it just happened. But we don't want to be in that same position. We want to give the Section good information early enough where they can plan, so I believe at the bottom of January, somewhere in the last week, that's what our goal is.

"But like everything else, we're not going to be stuck with a time frame if it needs more discussion," Stutzman added. "It would be foolish to say the (end) of January and then find out we're still in discussions. If we have to discuss this further to make sure this is a good thing, then we'll take the time and have to go back to the Section and say, 'Look, we need more time, because we're not sure if this is going to work, or if that is going to work,' or, 'Maybe this isn't going to work, but that is.' So we have a goal at the (end) of January, but if it requires more time, then we will ask for more, because we want to do it right if we choose to do it at all."



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