The San Antonio Spurs just showed every basketball fan in America that when a team comes together, they can do something special.
The Spurs did not have the marquee name player (that honor went to the Miami Heat and LeBron James, arguably the greatest player of this generation) or an inflated payroll. They had a mixture of players from different backgrounds who came together to make each other better.
On the court, the team worked together. The only way this could have been accomplished is through practice, patience and communication.
On a playing field or court, communication can come in verbal forms, such as calling a play or helping teammates to know their responsibilities, or in physical forms like raising an eyebrow to tell a teammate to cut to the basket or pointing to where the pass will be delivered. No matter what, communication is vital to a successful team.
In the North Country, some teams and schools are facing the stress of declining enrollments equaling a lack in the number of youth needed to play middle and high school sports, especially among the schools in Section VII/Class D, which holds the lowest enrollment numbers in the region. Several schools have already consolidated athletic programs, creating the Minerva/Newcomb Mountaineers and Indian Lake/Long Lake Orange. Others have combined for individual sports, best exemplified by the Emus track and field team, a combination of Elizabethtown-Lewis, Keene, Moriah and Westport.
Of late, we have reported that ELCS and Westport have started to talk about more merged sports programs. This spring, the two schools combined their modified (typically students in grades 7-9) baseball and softball programs, with one team playing games in Elizabethtown and the other in Westport. Now, the schools are looking to do the same with the modified girls and varsity boys (typically grades 10-12) soccer programs.
Willsboro has just completed its fourth season of not fielding a varsity baseball team. Furthermore it was not even able to field a modified or junior varsity program (which can take students from all eligible grades depending on a physical for younger athletes), signifying what may be the unfortunate end to an entire spring sports program where a once proud ball tradition stood.
This also would not be Westport’s first time down the merged team road for a sport other than track, as they combined with Keene for the two-year boys spring sports era known as “Beagle-ball.”
For these schools or any others looking at the need to merge sports or, let’s be honest, even academic reasons, communication is going to be the key.
In Schroon Lake, Athletic Director Lee Silvernail invited the community to a public forum on the future of Wildcat athletics which took place June 17.
Schroon Lake has already been affected. This spring, the school was without a modified baseball program, which meant students in seventh grade who are barred from advancing to the varsity level by the state had no chance to play organized baseball — too young for varsity and too old for little league.
Silvernail is giving the community the chance to shape the future of how they want their sports programs to be handled, whether it be through combined gender teams, merged teams, or only fielding a varsity or modified squad, depending on numbers.
We commend Silvernail and Schroon Lake for taking this initiative. This is the way we hope all school districts approaching this topic would communicate with their parents and students as they head down a very sensitive road, no matter what the outcome of the public hearing and any further planning. If you are a school district or districts looking to merge teams and you are not having similar forums and hearings, we would strongly suggest you do so.
For many of our small town communities, high school sports is something to rally behind. It designates us as Eagles, or Lions, or Eagles, or Blue Bombers, or Eagles, or Warriors, or Eagles (yes, we have noticed there’s four teams locally with the same nickname). All over the area, signs have popped up at the edge of town indicating their school team won the Section VII title or made it to a state championship game. People hold on to these memories made through sports and may see the combining of two teams as cheapening those sacred reflections.
They may also feel bringing two schools together will lessen their child’s chance of participating in high school sports since it has been ages since anyone in a Class D school has heard the word “cut,” without looking at the possibility that a merge could actually lead to an increased opportunity through the addition of a junior varsity program, giving an option of three viable teams instead of two which are somewhere between fledgling and nonexistent.
This is a situation where no matter what a school or schools decide to do, someone is going to be upset that their school nickname is going away or that their kid can’t play school sports because there was not enough interest to field a team and no one wanted to merge. In the world of high school sports, this may very well be a no-win situation.
But, one thing can lessen the impact of any and all decisions made and bring communities closer together as they face these new North Country realities, and that is communication.