By JEANETTE WOLFBERG
HUDSON–High schools have been merging sports teams across districts, while for younger grades, the head of Columbia County’s Youth Bureau recommends reviving Pop Warner football.
Combining teams across school districts “seems like the wave of the future,” Dan Grandinetti, the Youth Bureau Executive Director. told the meeting of the County Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services Committee meeting January 23. Merged high school teams include within a county, across counties, and even public school/private school combinations.
The Ichabod Crane Central School District (ICC) and the Hudson City School District (HCSD) share a combined varsity swim team, confirmed Austin Crosier, the communications specialist for the HCSD, on January 24. ICC also shares its lacrosse team with the Maple Hill school district in Schodack, reported Mr. Grandinetti. The New Lebanon Central School District has merged its sports teams with those of the Berlin schools in Rensselaer County. Taconic Hills has had Hawthorne Valley students on its soccer teams. Several high school football teams have merged in other counties (but in the same league) reported Shawn Briscoe, the HCSD’s Athletic Director, at an informational meeting January 11.
This January, the HCSD and the Chatham Central School District seriously considered merging their football teams. For the last two seasons Hudson High School canceled its varsity football season due to not enough qualified players, but it has a strong Junior Varsity team. Chatham High School’s pre-varsity football teams have “light” participation, but its varsity team is “strong.” Therefore, Mr. Briscoe and Chatham’s Athletic Director John Brantley “saw a potential opportunity to merge [their] football programs,” reported Mr. Crosier. The goal was to have 30 varsity players from both schools combined, and a sufficient number of players in the non-varsity teams so that people play against others of their own size, Mr. Briscoe told the about 60 students and parents who attended the informational meeting.
The HCSD Board of Education approved the football merge. But then on January 30, HCSD announced that Chatham “has withdrawn from…discussions” about merging the football teams for 2024-25 but “is interested in considering future merger options. The HCSD Board of Education….continues to thoughtfully consider next steps.”
However, the merged Hudson/Ichabod Crane swim team is in its second year. This year, of its 13 members, 31% are from Hudson, Mr. Crosier reported. In addition to assuring sufficient members, a merged team exposes players from each school to the demographics of the other. This was one factor motivating the merger of the Hudson and ICC swim teams. (See article “Hudson, ICC teams have deal to share Hudson pool,” September 8, 2022.)
Another option for youth sports are teams open to interested qualified players regardless of school district.
Mr. Grandinetti advocated “reviving the Pop Warner program. Maybe it will help school athletics.”
Pop Warner Little Scholars, a nonprofit organization, “is the leading youth football, cheerleading and dance organization, with programs and participants across the United States,” according to www.popwarner.com.
Mr. Grandinetti said, on January 25, that the kids he envisions playing on Pop Warner teams would be elementary and junior high school age, but he hopes the program will “create a love/enjoyment” that will motivate the youths “to live within eligibility requirements in order to continue playing” in high school on high school teams. These requirements include academic standards. Hopefully, the youths would want to play so much that they are willing to do their schoolwork, and even “excel academically.”
Columbia County last had Pop Warner teams in 2011, Mr. Grandinetti said. He added that, “like little leagues and soccer programs, Pop Warner football programs serve several purposes: 1. keeping kids engaged in a positive way; 2. learning social/soft skills; 3. friendships; 4. discipline and commitment; 5. physical fitness/exercise; 6. teamwork; 7. being accountable to others and having others count on you; 8. development of a set of skills….Ultimately, I see programs like Pop Warner having a residual effect that has positive impacts on behavior and graduation rates.”
“Athletics and academics go hand and hand. For many youth, athletics is what increases their academic focus/success,” Mr. Grandinetti said.
“Scholastic sports are a valuable component of students’ educational experience,” the HCSD’s January 30 statement added.