By Sam Wilson
The rise in merged football programs has left just four teams in Section Class D next season, presenting a unique challenge both to the teams left in the division and those jumping up to the C level.
Just one merged program remains in Class D on the basis of its BEDS (Basic Education Data System) figures, Clymer/Sherman/Panama, and will play against Salamanca, Cattaraugus-Little Valley and defending champion Maple Grove. Section 6 denied an appeal by Franklinville/Ellicottville to stay in Class D, after the sectional merger committee ruled it could not stay at that level under a “dominance” policy. Thus, the Titans will play in Class C South, bumping up along with Portville (just seven over the Class D cutoff of 229 with a BEDS number of 236) and two new merged teams, Randolph/Frewsburg and Chautauqua Lake/Westfield.
The new Class C South division includes F/E, Allegany-Limestone, Portville, Randolph/Frewsburg, Falconer/Cassadaga Valley, Southwestern and Chautauqua Lake/Westfield. The seven teams play six league games and one non-league, while the four Class D teams play three home-and-home serieses with their league opponents and two non-league games, starting playoffs in the semifinals in Week 9.
F/E coach Chad Bartoszek said the move to Class C impacts his program’s scouting and scheduling to start with.
“The initial reaction was not 100 percent against it,” Bartoszek said, “just it’s going to create some new challenges… our comfortability with the league, different things like that are going to be challenged. Then we kind of just explored the reasons why. Why are we being moved up? What’s changing and I know the numbers issues with merged programs is going to be a big issue going forward, so I understand, I think that’s probably where we’re headed. We’re going to head to a place where there’s a lot of C schools and the D league is going to suffer for that. I understand that part of it, we’re not shying away from what we have in terms of our numbers.”
He noted his 2017 team was particularly senior-laden, including four Big 30 all-stars set to graduate. So while the section cited the Titans’ four straight sectional championship appearances, one victory, and a high margin of victory in most regular season games, next year will mark a transition for F/E regardless of its class.
“The timing is a little bit suspect just due to the fact that we’re losing a large number of players, a large number of seniors who were as talented as we’ve ever had,” Bartoszek said. “I guess when you use the dominance term, we have had success, but there are reasons for that success as well and it’s not specifically numbers. There’s two sides to the coin, but I do understand the section’s part and I believe this is probably where we’re headed. We’re going to head to a place where these merged programs are going to take 100 percent of their numbers and we’re going to form a bigger C class and some of them are going to move up to Bs.
“Having said all that, we’re going to be ready to play in the C division. It’s a tough division. It’s a good division. We’ve got a lot of local schools. What happens next year is up in the air still because it’s a one-year thing. There’s a little bit of unfamiliarity with the whole process just because it hasn’t happened to us before.”
The only other instance of Section 6 declining a football merger was with Class C state champion Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake. But while those schools split rather than move to Class B, Bartoszek said Franklinville and Ellicottville didn’t consider ending their merger.
“From the beginning it was always ‘what are we going to do together?’” Bartoszek said. “This program is going to stay together, the numbers just don’t bear out. We’ve worked as a program and as an administration and communities, we’ve worked really hard to put together a pretty good product and this program is going in the right direction. We just need to adjust to our new circumstances. The Ds have perennially been pretty tough, so going into the Cs there are going to be challenges in terms of some bigger sized schools. We’ve already been through some pretty tough gauntlets the last four years. We’re just going to have to get a little better and I think we’re going to be able to continue our success as long as our kids step up to the challenge during the offseason here and get better.”