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Attendees of Ad Hoc Clarion Athletic Meeting Appear to Favor Football Co-op With C-L

Wednesday, November 21, 2018 @ 12:11 AM

Posted by Chris Rossetti

Black & Blue Brawl Photo by Kyle YatesCLARION, Pa. (D9Sports) – The consensus among the nearly 40 people who attended an ad hoc Clarion School Board athletic committee meeting on Tuesday night at the high school was that a co-op in football between Clarion, North Clarion, and Clarion-Limestone needs to happen.

(Photo by Kyle Yates

Tuesday’s meeting was an informational gathering session, according to school board member and the chair of the ad hoc athletic committee, Dave Estadt.

“We haven’t had much discussion as a board,” Estadt said. “We want to know where our community stands.”

The meeting was attended by both adults and students.

Community member Brian Burford told the committee, “I think it’s good to have unity. I have heard that here tonight, and I hear it outside this room. A lot of people are in favor of it.”

The committee heard from a variety of constituents including current students playing football at Clarion, Clarion-Limestone, and North Clarion; Clarion band director Chris Curry; and parents of current and future football players, as well as from Clarion head football coach Larry Wiser and Clarion athletic director Nancy Mills.

Wiser said the consensus among his coaches is that something needs to be done because enrollments are down which is keeping roster sizes down. That forces players to play before they are ready or to play multiple positions or out of position, which leads to injuries that otherwise could be avoided.

“We had to drop our seventh-and-eighth-grade team and go with just a full seventh through ninth grade team,” Wiser said. “My belief is (a co-op between Clarion and C-L which would include the current Clarion/North Clarion co-op) has to take place. How we get to that end, a lot is involved.”

Because the PIAA is currently in the middle of a two-year enrollment cycle, Wiser said the co-op would need to be housed by Clarion if it would happen for the 2019 season.

The reason for that is that the PIAA currently classifies Clarion as Class 2A and C-L as Class 1A. Even if C-L’s enrollment is counted in Clarion’s numbers – the way the PIAA counts enrollment in a co-op is that the host school counts all of its eligible boys and the schools(s) joining the program are counted at half their eligible boys with the three numbers added together – the team would remain Class 2A. If C-L were to host, the Lions would go from Class 1A to Class 2A. The PIAA bylaws say that if a team changes classifications in the middle of the enrollment classification, it is not eligible for the playoffs until the next enrollment classification.

While the host school question is pretty much answered if the co-op is to take place for the 2019 season, Wiser said a lot of other questions remain unanswered.

“My recommendation it is run by Clarion Area at least next year,” Wiser said.

By “run by Clarion Area,” Wiser meant on the administrative level: Who would vote at the PIAA/District 9/League level? Who would pay the coaches? Who would be responsible for transportation, insurances, and similar items?

“They come here, and we discuss them paying some sort of athletic fee as North Clarion does,” Wiser said. “We do that for a year and then discuss what to do.”

Currently, North Clarion students who play football at Clarion pay $450.00 at the varsity/junior varsity level and $400.00 at the junior high level. North Clarion students are responsible for that fee on their own, according to Wiser, but he would expect C-L to pick up the cost for its players.

Wiser acknowledge that while Clarion would “run” the co-op, what the co-op is called could be discussed.

“We could name it something else as a compromise,” Wiser said.

“Colors seem to be a big point. I would love to stay black and orange, but I would also love to see a football program. Push comes to shove I believe our boosters would take the cost of new uniforms.”

Wiser also discussed other issues including where the teams would play.

“Next year we have four home games, maybe five if we would get a team to fill the game we currently have with C-L,” Wiser said. “Could we even get out of our contract with Clarion University and play some games at C-L? We would like to be able to have Homecoming at both schools, but Senior Day would have to be combined.”

According to Wiser, C-L could have 17 or 18 varsity players next year and another 17 or 18 junior high players.

“We could have a team in the low 40s if we combined,” Wiser said.

Wiser also discussed how the coaching staff would work and said that the thought would be to possibly have up to six coaches – currently, each school pays four coaches – on the staff at least for two years before evaluating it again.

Colton Zacherl, a junior at North Clarion who plays football at Clarion, said if left to the players and the students at the three schools, the co-op would already be happening.

“There is a lot of argument between parents,” Zacherl said. “If the kids got a say, they would say it’s a really good idea.”

Many of the parents in the room agreed.

“This has to happen for safety reasons,” Kim Cherico said. “My son, Luca, is a ninth grader and 14 years old and was going against seniors. I was petrified.”

Cherico said what color the team wears shouldn’t be the ultimate deciding factor, mentioning how bad it would be if the color the team wears is the reason a player ends up getting seriously hurt because they have been forced to play before they are ready.

The discussion turned to more than just football, with Clarion Cross County coach Keith Murtha bringing up the fact that the cross-county coaches at the two schools have talked about the possibility of merging as well.

Clarion superintendent Mike Stahlman said Tuesday morning was the first time he had heard of that but was in support of it.

In fact, Stahlman said he was in support of discussions taking place where the two districts would merge into one, although he said he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

Emily Cunningham, a parent of cross-country athletes, said she believes the co-ops in all sports and the merging of schools needs to happen.

“When you are at a cross country meet when Clarion and C-L are running together, you can’t tell the difference between a C-L or a Clarion kid,” Cunningham said. “They all have played sports together growing up and have been involved in other community activities. There is no question this needs to happen”

When asked about the color of a team, Cunningham responded by saying she didn’t care if the team wore purple and red and was dressed as roosters.

Christie Datko said that while she wasn’t against co-ops she wanted to make sure they were being done for the correct reason.

“We should have co-ops only if we truly don’t have the numbers for teams,” Datko said. “One of the great things about being in a small school is the opportunities the kids get to participate even if they aren’t the best athlete. The chances they get to grow and become better. But, if a sport doesn’t have enough kids, then we should co-op.”

A number of parents did say that if co-ops did take place that the district needed to provide transportation to and from events and practices for safety reasons.

“You don’t want kids transporting kids,” one said to the agreement of others in the room.

Nathaniel Lerch, a member of the cross-country team whose mom is one of the cross-country coaches, talked a bit about the possibility of the cross-county co-op.

“My mom and I went through some of the pros and cons,” Lerch said. “Some of the pros would we would have access to a track (at C-L), we would always have enough people to score, and there is a chance to be more successful at KSACs and Districts.

“The cons would be the concerns about who the coaches would be, how we would be transported to practice at C-L, and a policy at C-L where you can’t leave campus to run. Also, the mascot and uniforms could be an issue.”

Mills read a letter from North Clarion athletic director Bonnie Wolbert that stated how thankful North Clarion has been to Clarion for the current co-op – all talks of a new football co-op would include North Clarion – and how welcoming the school has made the North Clarion kids since the co-op was started in 2012.

Wolbert’s letter concluded by saying, “We are all here for the kids. We are not here to relieve our glory days or lack thereof.”

Curry addressed the committee by explaining that he and the C-L band director had discussed how the bands would operate if the football program combines.

According to Curry, two options are available. One would be “separate but equal” bands where the bands would sit together in the stands and perform together in the stands at home games.

“We would then each do separate on-field performances with the final set being a combined set like we did at the C-L/Clarion football game this year,” Curry said. “We would also split the road games with Clarion going to half of them and C-L to half of them.”

The other option would be a single-entity marching band.

According to Curry, some of the concerns include when the bands would have time to practice together – a suggestion made was to have that time be between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Fridays before games – and the distance involved in traveling to some of the road games.

Stahlman told the gathering that he believes the first decision that needs to be made is whether or not Clarion is willing to co-op in football with C-L and once that decision is made, if it is affirmative, then the other details can be worked out.

Estadt said he appreciated everyone coming to the meeting and that the first thing he wanted to do was make the ad hoc committee a permanent one.

The discussion on the co-op, at least from Clarion’s perspective, will continue at the December 4 school board meeting.

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