No Friday Night Lights

SOUTH DAYTON – A decades-long tradition has temporarily come to an end for Pine Valley Central School.

With only 16 players on the practice field Tuesday, Pine Valley has been forced to cancel its 2014 football season.

“We didn’t have enough students show up,” said David Kurzawa, interim superintendent. “The numbers of juniors and seniors were low. We had others from other grade levels. Having those underclassmen fill a spot against players who are seniors, it’s not a safe thing to do. With the limited number of students who came out, we realize if we do have injuries, which does happen, telling a ninth-grader to start is not appropriate.”

The 2013 Panthers consisted of 30 players. The team had a rough season, going 0-8. This past June a survey was sent out to the student body and 29 players showed an interest in playing football this season. However, on Monday, less than half of that number showed up to practice.

“Whatever happened between June and now, we don’t know,” Kurzawa said. “We need to analyze and find the dynamic of our student body and the change that occurred between June and now.”

The decision, according to a press release issued by the school, was reached based upon the lack of participation to a meet a team roster per Section 6 and safety concerns.

“This is a sad day for the Pine Valley community after many past years of a successful, winning program in the district,” Kurzawa said.

Ken Stoldt, chairperson for Section 6 sports, said it’s likely that there will be a hole in the schedule for the opponents who were slated to play Pine Valley. He mentioned that there’s a slight possibility that Section 5 schools can fill in the hole, but it would likely be a bye week.

“To redo a schedule would snowball and impact other divisions and classes,” Stoldt said. “It’s difficult because they’re Class D. We can’t have B schools come down in place and play. It’s unfortunate, but we’re brainstorming possible scenarios as of right now.”

Stoldt said that the deadline has passed for merging. In this case, however, it is a football issue since the kids who signed up want to play. Stoldt has been in contact with the athletic director with regard to seeking new options for the kids.

Kurzawa and his staff now turn their attention to finding a school nearby that is willing to accept the Pine Valley football players who are now without a team. The challenge is finding a school which will take the Pine Valley players without having to make a jump to a higher classification.

“We are trying to look at school districts adjacent to our district and looking at the idea of which ones have the ability to merge and are willing to accept us at this late stage,” Kurzawa said. “We are looking and hoping within the next couple days to have some direction and opportunity.”

“We don’t want to penalize these kids,” Stoldt added. “It is a possibility.”

Coach Ehrich Zollinger was entering his second season as coach for the Panthers. Zollinger noted in the 2013 high school football preview that he was looking at the future of Pine Valley football.

“The focus this year is installing a new program and to move in the direction the new coaching staff wants to, and improve every single day,” he said.

Low turnout in football has plagued many smaller schools. As a result, several mergers have formulated to allow kids to play football. Silver Creek and Forestville merged programs before the start of this season due to the decrease in numbers. Other schools that have merged include Maple Grove-Chautauqua Lake, Sherman-Clymer,Westfield-Brocton, Franklinville-West Valley-Ellicottville and the most recent joining of fall sports between Cassadaga and Falconer. The merge between Cassadaga and Falconer was announced during a school board meeting in February 2014. Cassadaga board member William Carlson said that the merge was a big advantage for both schools.

“Both districts need each other,” he said. “Sooner or later we wouldn’t have had these programs without the merge.”

It was decided that Cassadaga would host for junior varsity and varsity football along with varsity cheerleading. Falconer would play host to boys modified, varsity soccer and varsity cross country.