Dwindling numbers in certain sports have prompted some local school districts to form mergers with neighboring districts.
Pooling resources and providing a home for athletes to play at every level is the driving force behind athletic team mergers.
Among the prominent local mergers are Hartford and Fort Edward, who will play as combined teams in baseball and softball this spring — a first for the Adirondack League schools that are located about 14 miles apart.
“We haven’t had a JV baseball team in five or six years, and we’ve averaged eight or nine players on modified for the last few years,” said Andrew Cook, Superintendent of Schools for Hartford.
“We needed to do this,” Hartford-Fort Edward varsity softball coach Scott Hasemann said. “Next year we’d graduate nine girls and we wouldn’t have a softball program. It was a fit with Fort Edward — their numbers were kind of small, too. So we put the programs together and see if we can come up with enough players.”
That has had the desired effect for the Hartford-Fort Edward softball and baseball programs, with good representation from both schools.
“We have full teams at all three levels this spring,” Cook said.
“We haven’t had a modified in two years and we haven’t had JV in longer than that,” Hasemann said. “Now we have 12 on varsity, 13 on JV and about 14 on modified. It works out for the best for the younger kids, who have a chance to play a full season on JV and improve.”
Cook said a three-way merger of Hartford, Fort Edward and Argyle had been planned in baseball, but Argyle withdrew its application from the merger. Fort Edward and Argyle had previously been merged in baseball and football, but they will continue to play as a combined boys tennis team this spring.
Also this spring, Bolton and Schroon Lake are continuing their mergers in baseball and softball at all levels. The schools are about a half-hour apart and the Bolton-Schroon Lake teams will play in the Mountain and Valley Athletic Conference in Section VII.
Cambridge and Salem, separated by 10 miles on Route 22, plan to field merged teams in football, golf and field hockey this fall. All were approved by both school boards and await Section II approval by May 1.
“We’re assuming it’s all going to happen — we’ve just been going through all those steps to make it official,” Cambridge athletic director Deb Lauver said. “It’s a natural thing and their just 15 minutes down the road.”
Lauver said she wasn’t sure of the level of interest in field hockey at Cambridge, which dropped the sport following the 2006 season. She said the Indians have a golf team with low numbers, so opening it up to Salem, which does not offer golf, will help both schools.
But Lauver also pointed to the success of the Salem-Cambridge wrestling team, which just completed its third season as a merged team.
“It’s been fantastic for wrestling,” she said. “What’s better than having your kids be coached by (Salem’s) Frank Fronhofer? He’s an amazing coach and we’re thrilled with the wrestling team.”
Lauver said the football team would be hosted by Cambridge and known as Cambridge-Salem, most likely with Indians head coach Doug Luke and his staff coaching the team. The merger of the two former rivals will bump Cambridge-Salem up to Class C, after the Indians had won back-to-back Class D state titles in 2016 and ‘17.
Four years ago, Cambridge took in two Salem seniors after the Generals decided to play a JV-only season. Josh Steele and Colton Eastman were key players for the Indians in a run to the Class D state semifinals that fall.
“They helped us a lot — they were two really good kids and we were all one team,” Luke said. “That’s why we said yes to this merger. It’s been so successful in wrestling, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in football.”
Last August, Salem decided to play a JV-only season two weeks before the opener over concerns that too many underclassmen would be forced into roles before they were ready. But that late decision left several Salem seniors unable to play their final season of football.
“Salem kids deserve the opportunity to play,” Luke said. “They’ve been through it since they were pee-wees and to not be able to play as juniors and seniors isn’t fair. Both teams can benefit.”