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Fredonia combines football program with Westfield-Brocton

February 18, 2016
By Greg Fox ( , Westfield Republican

FREDONIA (Feb. 9) - After much debate over the safety concerns, the Fredonia Board of Educa-tion has decided to continue football by merging with the already combined Westfield-Brocton Wolverines.

The board voted 6-1 to accept Superintendent Paul DiFonzo's recommendation of sustaining the program by entering into an interscholastic athletics sharing agreement for a combined varsity/junior varsity football program during the 2016-17 school year.

Around 100 community members packed the high school library to observe the outcome in real time.

DiFonzo expressed his satisfaction in the program's continuation to the media afterward.

"(Many parents) want the programs to continue; I think they expect our board to allow them to make decisions regarding what sports their children play and I think the majority of the board realized that and voted to combine our football program with Westfield and Brocton," he stated. "I feel the students and parents, when they get the chance to look at all the information, they should be able to make an informed decision on any sport - because every sport has an inherent risk involved - and decide whether or not they want to play football."

He added the next step is to work on the logistics and specifics for what a combined program will look like. After a plan is hashed out, the three school boards must vote on the final agreement, he said, noting he expects such an agreement to be worked out in the next three months.

Before casting their votes, most of the board members expressed their opinions on the merger, which officials described as necessary to keep Hillbilly football alive due to dwindling participation figures. Many of them acknowledged they understand the dangers associated with playing such a high-contact sport, but pointed out the parents are the ones that should decide which sports their children play.

"I have been a member of this board of education for the last 10 years and this topic has been a very difficult conversation, if not the most difficult over that time period," Board member Rosie Joy said. "First and foremost, I believe we are here to promote quality education for our students. I feel the districts should consider consolidation and re-enter the merger discussions and revisit that topic. I think this would help to promote athletics and academics and bring stability to our students."

Several other board members echoed Joy's sentiments.

"I think if we have safety concerns, there are things we can look at and address," Board member Cristina Gegenschatz remarked. "I think the merger of the football program is the right thing to do. I think it's the first step that we take in merging the districts, which will bring so much more to our communities than just enough players to play a football game."

The sole person who dissented with his vote - Board President Michael Bobseine - took the opportunity to highlight why he believes continuing football is a terrible decision for the school district. He pointed to three overarching arguments by utilizing a PowerPoint presentation: liability, cost and risks/harm.

In his impassioned lecture to the audience, Bobseine explained the district is obliged to protect the children as well as the district and its taxpayers. If the board willingly sanctions a dangerous sport where injuries - serious or otherwise - are all but guaranteed, the school will be sued, he asserted.

He added the real dangers associated with football are the proven asymptomatic injuries, particularly when it comes to subconcussive blows, which can lead to brain damage and mental impairment. Helmets, he said, do not protect against that threat.

"We are impairing the brains of our children who are playing football," he decried. "The research is there; you can't deny it. And we all know about proven possibility of disability and death.

"If you've played football, like I have ... you can get concussions and you can have impacts (as significant as falling on your head from a three-story building). Enough to hospitalize someone, such as me."

Bobseine said the district spends more on football than any other sport: $1,112 per player this year. With the budget issues Fredonia is facing, eliminating football (a nonmandated program) could save a significant amount of money, he noted.

He concluded by saying he does not relish being in the position he is to provide this information, but he must give voice to those who choose not to play football.

After Bobseine's presentation, DiFonzo responded by saying he respects Bobseine for being genuine in his comments. He added the research Bobseine presented is factual and real, but he feels the students and parents have a right to decide whether to participate in football.



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