The Corinth Central School Board of Education on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a merger with Fort Edward in football for the 2019 season.
Fort Edward's school board had approved the merger last month. Friday, the Adirondack League approved it — one of 24 mergers this fall in several sports at all levels that were OK'd by the league.
The merger moves on to Section II for final approval in early April.
I attended the school board meeting at Corinth, and spoke with both head coaches — Fort Edward's Jeff Tully and Corinth's Justin Culligan — by phone later on, and came away with the following particulars:
— It's a necessary move for both school's football programs. Participation numbers in football are currently low just about everywhere across the state, and the greater Glens Falls area is no exception. Corinth and Fort Edward both started the 2018 season with about 23 varsity players. Throw in the inevitable injuries, and the Tomahawks in particular were struggling to stay above the minimum of 16 players required by the state to field an 11-man football team each week.
"We cut back on tackling and we started going half-speed in practice," Culligan said. "When you're playing the teams we were facing last season, you can't be practicing at half-speed."
— It's likely only for a year or two. The numbers at the modified levels at both schools were deemed satisfactory, so this merger is really a way to keep both varsity programs on their feet until they can continue forward on their own. Fort Edward is still merged with Argyle at the modified level. The Forts had one varsity player from Argyle on their roster in 2018, but there were a few more on the modified.
"We said one year, maybe two, then we’re ousted because they already have a merger with Argyle at the modified level," Corinth athletic director Hilary Haskell said. "I think we’ll be fine — our modified numbers are really good, we have 22 or 24."
— Haskell said the Tomahawks are losing about a dozen senior players to graduation, and has only six ninth-graders moving up from modified. Culligan said Corinth could have up to 22 or 23 players, but that would still make the Tomahawks dangerously thin as they have been for the last couple of seasons. Fort Edward's Tully said the Flying Forts were losing six seniors and returning 15 or 16 players.
— The major challenge will be the distance between the schools. Corinth and Fort Edward are 16 miles apart — roughly 25-30 minutes by bus. Both coaches said the transportation hurdle can be overcome.
"It seems a far distance, but I think this can work," Tully said. "It's not the easiest situation, but the goal is to provide an opportunity to play for both schools."
Haskell said she checked with other schools about a merger possibility, but Fort Edward was the closest program that was interested.
— Superintendents met around the end of January. School superintendents Dr. Mark Stratton of Corinth and Daniel Ward of Fort Edward and athletic directors Haskell and Sam Ratti of Fort Edward met to discuss a football merger and worked out a lot of the details.
"We just want to give our kids the opportunity to play football," Stratton said. "We have a great relationship with Fort Edward and the administration there, so in terms of working out the details, that was easy."
— Rough 2018 seasons. Corinth struggled to an 0-9 record in a brutal Class C campaign in which the Tomahawks ran into four state-ranked opponents, including Cambridge-Salem, Holy Trinity and Stillwater. Fort Edward, one of the smallest football-playing schools in the state, went 3-5 against mostly Class D competition. One of the Forts' wins was a 26-20 victory at Corinth in an Oct. 19 crossover game.
— Both programs have long histories as standalone programs. Fort Edward started playing varsity football in 1930. Corinth picked up the sport in 1953. After one JV-only season in 2015, the Forts merged with Argyle in 2016, but got few varsity football players from the neighboring school.
— Merging two teams isn't always the easiest thing to do. However, recent football mergers between Lake George and Hadley-Luzerne, and Cambridge and Salem, have proven to be successful. While Warrensburg only had one varsity player from Bolton in recent years, the Burghers approved a merger with both Bolton and North Warren for the 2019 season.
"I don’t know how the boys will react — I think there’s mixed feelings there," Haskell said of the Corinth players. "This is new to them — new coaches coming in, new teammates coming in. That’s a huge adjustment.
"I know it’s difficult to accept when you kind of lose your identity, but it’s happening everywhere," Haskell added. "The small schools are really taking a hit."
However, neither Tully nor Culligan seemed worried about bringing together players from two different blue-collar towns.
"Kids play on AAU and travel teams, they follow each other on social media," Tully said. "The kids all know each other, or know of each other. The kids will come together pretty quickly."
"I have a handful of (football) kids on the track team (at Corinth)," Culligan said. "They sound like they're up for it."
— The proposal outlined by Haskell at the Corinth school board meeting included the following:
1. Practice sites alternating by week.
2. The possibility of two home games at each school — if the team can get four home games in the regular season.
3. Keeping both coaching staffs, with Tully and Culligan as co-head coaches. Both coaches said they knew each other and would be able to work together. They planned to meet in the coming weeks to work out a plan for the 2019 season.
4. Playing in Class D — a combined team of Corinth and Fort Edward would still be a large Class C. Playing down in class will mean the team will not be eligible for sectionals.
— Adding Corinth's most recent BEDS numbers (enrollment in grades 9-11) of 277 to 40 percent of Fort Edward's 100 (40) gives a total BEDS number of 317, still well below the cutoff between Class B and C for football. However, playing in Class C was brutal for the Tomahawks in 2018, as they ran into five state-ranked opponents during a winless season.
"I think if the kids have a schedule where they can compete, winning teams bring in more players — that’s what we’re hoping," Haskell said.
"We're hoping for at least one year in the D's and then go up to C," Culligan said. "We'd like to be competitive, win some games and hopefully both schools will benefit."
5. Black-and-blue color scheme. Haskell said the team would plan to use Corinth's black helmets, with perhaps a blue logo of some kind on the sides, and blue facemasks to incorporate Fort Edward blue in the color scheme. Haskell also said the combined team may opt to use one jersey and wear for all games, home and away, rather than color jerseys for home and white for away.
"We don’t want to purchase home and away (jerseys) if it’s a one-year merger," said Haskell, who added that the jerseys cost about $75 per athlete.
— Haskell: "It’s not a Corinth thing. I went to the merger meeting on Friday, and there are 24 mergers approved for the fall only in our league. So every school in our Adirondack League has merged (in one or more sports), including the bigger ones like Granville and Lake George, and now possibly us."
— Haskell: "We proposed probably five or six years ago the thought of merging, but Corinth is such a proud little community that everybody is like, ‘We’re not going to lose our identity.’ And I get that piece, but times are changing. With all of these fall mergers, we’re not out of the ordinary. But again, this has always been a football-proud community, so if we’re going to keep football, that’s our way to do it."
— Tully: "The way I sold (the merger) to my kids was, 'Now if we have 10-15 players who really want to be there, and Corinth has 10-15 players who share the same enthusiasm for the sport that you do, that's only going to benefit the team.'"
— Culligan: "We're being proactive. Everyone seems to understand that small schools are starting to merge in order to provide opportunities for kids to play. We want to keep football around for the kids coming up. Jeff and I are hoping to have 30-35 kids and be able to play some kids on a (junior varsity)."