For the second time in four years, Salem High School will drop varsity football and field only a junior varsity team this season.
Superintendent of Schools David Glover announced the decision on Friday, five days into preseason practice, citing a combination of low numbers, safety concerns for younger players, and a coach deciding to back away.
“I hate to do it, particularly with those senior kids who won’t have that last chance to play football,” Glover said. “It was a tough decision-making process, but our total numbers are not enough to warrant two teams, and we want to provide the most kids an opportunity to play.”
Salem’s late decision to drop out of varsity football leaves holes in the schedules of several Class D opponents, but a few have been able to fill the open dates with Cohoes, a late addition to the varsity ranks. High school football season kicks off Sept. 1-2.
The Generals last played a JV-only schedule in 2014 — the first non-varsity season for Salem football since 1930 — but a merger approved in the spring allowed two seniors to play for neighboring Cambridge. Salem returned to the varsity level in 2015, but has struggled on the field, going 2-15 in the last two seasons.
Glover said low numbers were the biggest factor, with only 19 players on the field earlier this week. Athletic director Don Zarzycki said six or seven seniors are affected, as seniors cannot play JV.
“We’ve had numbers issues for four years, and probably longer than that,” said Glover, who has been superintendent since 2014-15. “Every year, we look at what we might have, and this year it looked like we would be OK. We had a big group of seniors — for us — and a large freshman group.
“We thought we could get away with just enough for a JV and a varsity, but small,” Glover added. “But our total numbers just aren’t enough. My priority is to give the most kids possible an opportunity to play, so we decided that the JV was the way to go. It’s difficult to ask freshmen to play football at the varsity level — you can’t risk kids’ safety on the field.”
Glover also said first-year coach Jon Braymer had decided to step down as varsity coach late this week.
“We’re low on coaching volunteers and I think the time commitment it takes to be a varsity football coach was a concern for him,” Glover said. “It was his first time coaching at the varsity level — he stepped up when they needed a coach, but he had a very short time frame to get ready. It’s a big job and he just didn’t have the volunteer assistants to help.
“His heart’s in the right place — I know it wasn’t easy for him,” Glover added. “He was putting kids first and he wanted to give them a chance to play, but it just wasn’t going to work for him.”
Fred Truehart will coach Salem’s JV team this fall.
Glover said Section II’s deadline for fall sports mergers is in the spring, but “at that point, we looked like we would be OK.”
Cambridge head coach Doug Luke said earlier this week that he was open to a merger with Salem in the spring. Despite winning a state championship last fall, the Indians have only 28 varsity players this season. Cambridge and Salem are only 10 miles apart.
“I would love having Salem come down,” Luke said. “We could use the numbers, and they’re good kids. I think merging programs is the way to go to keep football going at the small-school level. We’ve been merged in wrestling for two years and it’s been excellent for both schools.”
“Cambridge has open arms — they’re ready to help us out,” Zarzycki said.
Glover said Salem plans to look at its football future — including a possible merger with Cambridge — after the current season.
“We’ll get the JV up and rolling and get through this season, and we’ll worry about the other pieces later,” he said. “Then we’ll have a conversation on where we go from there.”