Schroon Lake senior Caleb, junior Joseph and eighth grader Emily Maisonville fill out a survey during a public forum on the state of the Wildcat athletic program along with their father, Craig.
The Schroon Lake Wildcats are looking for ways to deal with a thinning pack.
A school that had 142 students enrolled in grades 7-12 as recently as 2011-12 is facing three straight years of declining numbers, preparing to be as low as an enrollment of 88 in 2015-16 and 89 the following school year.
Lower numbers lead to fewer students to field middle and high school athletic teams, and Schroon Lake Athletic Director Lee Silvernail along with Superintendent Bonnie Finnerty held an open forum on the topic June 17.
Numbers crunch - Schroon Lake’s declining 7-12 population
This weekend, Schroon Lake Central School will bid farewell to 29 seniors graduating from the institution. They will be replaced by only 14 incoming seventh graders, a deficit of 15 kids in the pool of those eligible to play for modified and varsity sports teams. There will be an estimated total of 103 students in grades 7-12.
In 2015, the school will graduate 22 students while the incoming seventh graders will number in the single digits - seven (four girls, three boys) - another gap of 15. There will be an estimated total of 88 students in grades 7-12.
In 2016, 19 seniors are expected to graduate, being replaced by 11 incoming seventh graders, a difference of eight to the negative. There will be an estimated total of 89 students in grades 7-12.
“We want to develop a plan to provide sustainable options, whatever they may look like,” Silvernail said. “I feel passionately about coming up with solutions so we can continue to have a sports program here at Schroon Lake.”
Finnerty said the issue is not one her school is facing alone.
“Not only are we seeing more and more schools merge in the area, it is also leading to fewer and fewer teams to play against,” she said. “This is a topic that is going to continue to come up. We want to field full teams for soccer in the fall. The other sports are important, but the fall season is imminent.”
Silvernail showed projections of the number of expected student athletes over the next three years, which showed a lack of proper numbers for modified and varsity boys soccer, girls soccer, baseball, softball and golf. In varsity baseball, where nine are required to field a team, Silvernail estimated they would have six players in 2015-16, followed by between four and five the following season.
“Not only are these numbers based on who has signed up and who is coming up, in some cases these numbers represent the entire male or female population for a class,” Finnerty said. “We have a combination of factors driving this. We have not had modified baseball in four years and we only have two boys in seventh grade.”
Silvernail said a range of options have been discussed, from merging with other schools to field teams to league-wide discussions on changing the landscape of local sports, removing sports that require more numbers like soccer and baseball and replacing them with more individual sports such as cross country and track.
“We have nothing lined up right now,” Silvernail said. “I thought it was an important first step to have this meeting with the community and lay out what is going on and where we stand as a program.”
Keene Central School Athletic Director Matthew Mills, who lives in the Schroon area, said these are discussions that need to take place in a lot of the smaller Class D schools, most of whom are found in the Mountain and Valley Athletic Conference.
“The discussion needs to shift to what we can do to provide these students with the chance to participate in sports,” Mills said. “There needs to be more conversations with the teams who are close by about this. I would be concerned that if we start to introduce individual sports, the team sports would be out the window and we would not get them back.”
Finnerty said the school has had preliminary conversations with Mountainside Christian Academy about a potential merger, but there were issues.
“They are a private school and are not a member of the MVAC or Section VII,” Finnerty said. “The school coming in, even if they were merging with us, would still have to pay the section and league fees.”
Finnerty also said the school cannot legally allow home school students to be part of school teams.
Sixth grader Marcus Peace said he is looking forward to playing modified soccer in the fall and hopes there will be a team.
“I definitely want to play soccer,” he said. “I would still practice if we did not have a team, but I enjoy playing and want to play for my school.”
“The biggest concern is that they would not be able to field a team,” Marcus’ mother, Cathy, said. “The kids who want the opportunity to play should be given it and we have to figure out how.”
Seventh grader Harrison Gereau played modified soccer and was a member of a basketball team that played most of the season with only five players. He was unable to play baseball because New York State does not allow seventh graders to try out for varsity.
“I love playing sports and I want to play every one they have here,” Gereau said. “In the spring, I helped out with the softball teams from biddy to varsity. We need to have the players.”
Eighth grader Emily Maisonville has been a member of the soccer and basketball teams. She said next season, she plans to play softball in order to make sure the team has enough players.
“If we have the numbers and can scrape to make a team, I think it would be best to keep things as they are,” Emily’s brother, junior Joseph Maisonville, said.
The forum included a survey which was handed out to all in attendance to fill out. Finnerty said the results would be discussed, along with options for the coming season, during the June 26 school board meeting.