When Section 6 boys JV and varsity basketball begins its season at the end of the month, there will be a newly merged team in the mix.
This season will feature the combined basketball programs of the Frewsburg and Falconer school districts, a move which has succeeded in consolidating four basketball teams into two.
The merger came about in a brief amount of time, when it was discovered early in September that Frewsburg only had 10 students signed up to participate in its basketball program. According to Danielle O'Connor, Frewsburg superintendent, the district had to quickly examine its options for operating a sustainable program.
"Back in the beginning of September, I was approached by our athletic director (Terry Gray) and the information that we had to work with at that time was that Frewsburg had low numbers," O'Connor said.
O'Connor said only 10 boys were initially signed up to play in the program. She said discussions then ensued with Stephen Penhollow, Falconer superintendent, in which it was determined that Falconer was also dealing with below average participation numbers and was also looking for support in the area of coaching.
"When considering a sports merger, we are looking at two key factors for our programs - safety and sustainability," Penhollow said. "Frewsburg did request to us that they felt their safety and sustainability was a concern they had. I think (Falconer) would have been OK this year, but it would have been close. Injuries or anything like that would have made it tight."
At that point, the idea of a merger was proposed by Frewsburg. Unfortunately, the deadline to apply for combined sports in Section 6 was Sept. 9, forcing the district to act quickly or risk potentially losing out on boys basketball for the year.
"At our Sept. 10 board meeting, a resolution was brought forward to have a merged team with Falconer," O'Connor said. "So it was a very quick turnaround but, when you look at the timetable that was available to us, we had to act quickly if we were going to combine."
Not surprisingly, this quick nature of the decision to merge has spurred criticism from several parents in the district. To make matters more complicated, the number of Frewsburg participants as of the beginning of last week had increased to 18, which indicates that Frewsburg would have been closer to sustaining its own program.
As it stands now, the combined Falconer-Frewsburg program consists of 34 students - 15 on the JV team, 14 on the varsity team and five who were cut and landed on the practice squad. According to David Nelson, Falconer's athletic director, nine freshman had also been cut and were subsequently offered an opportunity to play at the modified level.
Although the students who have been cut are unlikely to see much time on the court this year, Nelson said the idea is to keep them involved in one way or another in order to retain them for future teams.
"If you go through a merger, and you're hoping to someday be able to demerge, you have to keep the kids active no matter what situation they're in," Nelson said. "We want to keep every kid involved because, if the time comes to demerge, we need to keep as many kids going and practicing and playing."
Although Frewsburg initially requested the merger - which designates Falconer as the "host school" - both districts are planned to have equal representation in terms of practices, home games and coaching.
"Our athletic directors, principals and boards are working together with Frewsburg to make sure we have a very close split in practices and home games so there will be some sort of equality," Penhollow said.
Nelson said both the JV and varsity teams will be coached by a head coach and an assistant coach representing each district. The varsity team's head coach will be Tom Nelson, of Frewsburg, and the assistant coach will be Jason Becker, of Falconer. The JV team will be instructed by head coach Dan Molfino, of Falconer, and assistant coach Tom O'Brien, of Frewsburg.
As for transportation to games and practices, Nelson said the current system is to have parent drop-offs, but other methods may be considered if that becomes an inconvenience to parents.
Both O'Connor and Penhollow indicated that, because sports mergers are evaluated on an annual basis, both districts will re-evaluate their programs next year in hope of being able to re-establish their own individual teams.
"We're looking at this as an opportunity to rebuild both teams," O'Connor said. "All mergers are only for one year, so we hope that by merging this year, we are able to have two sustainable teams next year. Our goal is to have as many students remain on the teams as we can, because we want them to be practicing and improving their skills this year so they are strong players next year."
"At this point, I think the merger will be a rewarding experience for our kids and Frewsburg's kids," Penhollow said. "The idea is to keep our kids playing in a place where they'll be safe, have good coaching and have a good fan base. And that's something we're very much excited about."