Tucked away in Genesee County sits the Elba Central School District. It has just over 400 students enrolled district wide.
“We do have some challenges with that,” explained Elba School Superintendent, Keith Palmer. “One is our sports teams. If we start out with a small population to begin with, we can't field teams on our own.”
That's why for the last seven years, the district had a joint football team with Byron-Bergen Schools. That’s until now. The Byron-Bergen district has decided to merge with the Caledonia-Mumford School District this coming football season.
“I suppose in general there were some hurt feelings. But, in general, I think we were just happy that we had the opportunity,” Palmer said.
Palmer said they're hoping to merge with Oakfield-Alabama Central Schools. Their football program depends on it. “At last count we had about 15 kids in this district that are wanting to play football. That isn't even close to fielding a team for ourselves. So we have to find a partnership if we want to continue to offer football here.”
This marks the second time this week where two high schools have proposed a football merger. Fredonia is considering whether to merge with Westfield-Brocton. Westfield-Brocton has too few players to field a team.
While there may be a trend of fewer students enrolling in the sport, state athletic officials said that's not why we're seeing more mergers. “The reason why is because our Association created rules and regulations that actually make it easier and more advantageous for schools to merge,” said Robert Zayas. Zayas is the Executive Director for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
Palmer said they’re relying on the merger to save the program. “The skills that they learn on the athletic field translate into the classroom. So if we can provide that opportunity for our kids, we're going to try hard to do that.”
Palmer’s meeting with Oakfield-Alabama school officials Thursday to discuss a deal. He’s hopeful both districts can agree on a solution for the sake of the students.