Declining student enrollment, and the desire to create a better football program for the RSCS students that is safe and effective in building skills, has Richfield Springs Central School district officials faced with a dilemma this budget season.
Do they attempt to field another team for the upcoming school year’s football season or do they combine their athletes with Mohawk Central school?
According to tradition, successful football programs for boys in grades 7-12 should be composed of three levels of play for students: modified (junior high), junior varsity, and varsity. The goal of a three-team football program is having athletes move through a graduated program which allows for proper training and developing skills and allowing athletes to play other athletes with the same physical development.
A former physical education teacher and athletic director, Barraco maintains that teams need to have substitutes to step in to provide rest periods for other players, so that athletes are not playing every second of the game in both offensive and defensive positions.
“I have polled nine schools that we play in our football schedule and none of those schools have ninth graders who play varsity football,” Barraco said. “Injuries are part of playing contact sports, and it is necessary to have more than just the minimum numbers of boys making up the squad. In the last two years we have had two freshmen suffer concussions received during varsity games. Data we have obtained tells us that schools we play do not have freshmen on varsity teams.”
The school would like to have a modified and junior varsity football program at RSCS and would like to look into combining varsity football with a neighboring school. A combined Mohawk-Richfield Springs football team would not be the only merged varsity team in Section III; Lafayette/Fabius Pompey and Alexandria Bay/La Fargeville have combined to keep football with declining numbers at their individual schools.
Currently, the board is looking to share services with Mohawk Central School for varsity football. There are 95 ninth through twelfth grade boys at RSCS and the district projects that in the next five years that number will decrease to seventy-eight.
“Not all boys have an affinity for sports or football. Some have after school jobs or prefer soccer and music, ” said Barraco. “The demographic trend is that we’re not the only school with declining enrollment. Mohawk sees this also and is open to combining for varsity football with Richfield Springs in order to remain competitive. If we don’t take a proactive approach, the potential for not having any football team is greatly increased because we (RSCS) may not meet mandated numbers that are required by New York State.”
Ideally, football teams are comprised of special teams of offensive and defensive players that provide flexibility for the coaches during a game. Players must not only be healthy to play but also be passing their courses at school and meet the extra curricular activity policies at school. Attendance requirements for classes must be met and policies in the student handbook regarding behavior and conduct need to be followed. The athletic contract that players sign must be followed. In the past there have been occasions when Richfield’s ability to play a Saturday game has been hinged on whether the varsity team has the minimum number to play based on doctor’s releases, academic performance and behavioral contracts.
“We are not anti-football,” said Barraco. “We are looking to keep football here in Richfield Springs and make a better program. Our athletic budget has not cut football. The participation of the students is what has prompted us to cut teams.”
Furthermore, Barraco stated that, “we are concerned that we haven’t gotten the positive support from the community and we are anxious about the upcoming budget vote. Our tax rates have been one of the lowest in the surrounding area and the margin of support has been a concern for the board,” he added.
“We don’t intend to put sports participation in a place where support for the entire educational program at RSCS is compromised. We are compelled to listen to the people, but whatever the decision is, it will be made in the best interest of student athletes at RSCS,” Barraco said.
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer for The Mercury and currently substitutes for ODY. He is a recent retiree of RSCS.