By GAVIN PATERNITI
Special to the OBSERVER
BEMUS POINT - Last month's proposal that the football programs at Chautauqua Lake Central School and Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School be merged is anything but finalized.
The proposal has aroused much concern and skepticism among Maple Grove's community members who are faithful to the Red Dragon football program.
A public hearing was held in the cafeteria at Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a merger with CLCS. The pros and cons were presented by Jacqueline Latshaw, superintendent of the Bemus Point Central School district, in a slideshow format. A committee, which was formed by the Bemus Point Board of Education in the wake of CLCS' proposal, gathered the information based on responses from community members.
The initial proposal was made by Josh Liddell, Chautauqua Lake's secondary school principal and director of athletics, at a CLCS Board of Education meeting last month. Liddell's proposal is largely influenced by decreasing numbers threatening the loss of Chautauqua Lake's JV football program, a problem that Maple Grove's JV program may also be facing.
The proposal calls for a sharing of home games, two at each district as well as two total homecoming games, one at each district. Practices would be split evenly and include coaches representing both districts. It would also bump the team up to Section 6 Class C, which includes the combined teams of Westfield-Brocton and Forestville-Silver Creek as well as Fredonia and Southwestern. One major benefit is that it would allow for separate JV and varsity programs, reducing the number of injuries that have occurred as a result of combined JV and varsity practices.
Response to the proposal by the Maple Grove community has been varied but largely unfavorable. Some of the advantages given were: improved safety by being able to separate JV and varsity practices and scrimmages, the merger would not be a long-term commitment as it would be evaluated on a yearly basis, better overall competition for players and a cost savings for the district of approximately $5,000.
A sticking point in the discussion focused on the stigma surrounding the word "merger."
Some of the disadvantages given were: inconvenience due to extra travel for practices, loss of sports booster funds and community interaction by losing two home games, loss of the Maple Grove Dragon identity and loss of study time for the players on both teams due to an alternating practice schedule.
A real point of consideration comes from the fact that Maple Grove may not have the numbers to sustain a JV football team next year. Regardless, the tone of the hearing seemed to indicate that most would rather take the risk than submit to the terms of the CLCS proposal.
"I'm all for sticking to our guns if (the consensus is) that we have to stay Maple Grove," said Curt Fisher, Maple Grove's varsity head coach. "But we have to be prepared to possibly not have a JV schedule, (parents) can't be mad about their kid's playing time if there is no JV (program). And you may see a few years where we won't look like Maple Grove. You've got to be patient because we don't have the size."
When it was suggested that Maple Grove allow Chautauqua Lake players to play on its team, rather than accepting the proposal terms of an even split, the attendees became much more receptive. The suggestion entails all home games being played at Maple Grove, with the exception of a possible homecoming game on Chautauqua Lake turf, as well as retaining the Maple Grove uniforms and signature Red Dragon logo.
This new suggestion will be brought before the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday. Pending approval by the board, Latshaw will then contact Ben Spitzer, superintendent at Chautauqua Lake, with these new terms and await a response.
Should Maple Grove decide against the proposed merger, Chautauqua Lake has also expressed interest in a merger with the already combined Sherman-Ripley football program.