The Lake George Central School District Board of Education on Tuesday night voted to exit the approved merger of its football team with Corinth and Hadley-Luzerne.
The merger of the LG/H-L and Corinth programs for football had been approved by all three school boards late last fall. It was seen as a solution to declining enrollment numbers in both programs.
However, when Lake George players stood at an emergency board meeting on June 1 and threatened to boycott the merged team, followed by parents expressing concerns over the decision-making process, the school board chose to reconsider the merger.
Lake George Superintendent Lynne Rutnik said in her remarks Tuesday that the merger decision was initially made out of a desire “to create opportunities to allow our student-athletes to play football and sustain our football program.”
Rutnik said the recent input from the football players and community changed the board members’ minds, but she did caution that the vote to exit “could have serious implications for the future of the football program” in the face of declining enrollment.
“In recent weeks, it has become apparent, from listening to our students and our community, that we do not have the support to continue with the football merger,” she said. “After hearing from our football community and our athletes, I would support the board’s consideration to exit the merger at this time.”
While the board voted to exit the merger, some members expressed concerns for the long-term sustainability of football and other sports, and of leaving Corinth and Hadley-Luzerne in the lurch.
Because the merger — billed as the CHLG Mountaineers — had already been approved at the Section II level and the deadline for new mergers has passed, Lake George’s exit means the Warriors will have a standalone varsity team this fall. Lake George and Hadley-Luzerne had been merged in football as the WarEagles since 2014.
Lake George could still revisit a merger down the road.
The CHLG merger had been the subject of much debate in the months leading up to last week’s emergency board meeting.
At that meeting, a few players spoke and said many of their teammates were willing to sit out and not play if the merger went forward. They also said they had petitions from students not supporting the merger with Corinth, which had been part of a merger with Fort Edward for the last two seasons.
“As a student-athlete and member of the leadership council of the football team, on behalf of us, if this merger goes down, I guarantee that there will not be a team,” team co-captain Andrew Jeckel said at the meeting. “All 20 of us, or whatever number we do have, won’t show up.”
As a team, the WarEagles had gone 5-2 in the Fall II season this spring. The players said they wanted to continue the momentum they had built, and retain the first-year head coach, Zac Kozersky, with whom they had enjoyed their resurgence.
The school board had cited declining numbers, particularly at the lower grade levels, as cause for grave concern for the future of football at Lake George.
However, parents said the pandemic had affected in-school recruitment efforts, and 10 years of mediocre seasons had hurt the program’s turnout.
Parents also said they felt “blindsided” by the board’s decision to approve the merger with Corinth in November.
“Corinth had voted on it before we even knew this was happening,” said June Jeckel, the mother of a player, at the June 1 meeting. “Not one football family was involved in the decisions. As parents, we felt we were blindsided and our kids were blindsided in turn.”
Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity.