Landscape: Fewer teams, same districts

As noted on Saturday in our highs and lows corner, Gowanda’s willingness to work with Pine Valley so members of the district centered in South Dayton can play football is true team spirit.

But Pine Valley’s lack of being able to have a football program has again narrowed the field of area teams while the number of districts in our region holds steady. How can neighboring districts continue to work well together when it comes to athletics, but have residents fight plans for consolidation and mergers when the ultimate goal of schools – an education – continues to suffer?

Consider the number of combined football teams this year. Brocton is matched with Westfield. Pine Valley is now with Gowanda. Cassadaga Valley is with Falconer. Forestville is teaming with Silver Creek. Ripley is tied to Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove. Five teams, 11 districts.

When will this area face reality? Enrollment declines at area schools are continuing at rapid rates.

David Kurzawa, who wears the interim tag as superintendent almost as much as Buffalo Sabres coaches, lamented the loss of the Pine Valley team. “I think it’s a sad day when you make a decision to shut down the football program,” he said. “In my job, you just work with everything you have and make it the best for the kids.”

What really makes it “a sad day” is the stubborn attitudes of parents and voters, who ultimately put the blinders on when looking at the regions’s landscape. Our county’s population is 134,000 residents and has 18 school districts. Take away the two cities – Dunkirk and Jamestown, the population decreases to 92,000 residents being served by 16 school districts – or one district for every 5,700 residents.

It’s an inefficient model and a recipe for continuing high taxes, which has played a role in a population exodus and declining enrollment.

For the children and students, the partnerships work. Ripley is in a winning situation with Chautauqua Lake. Pine Valley football players have an opportunity with Gowanda.

These are great opportunities. Just think of how much greater our students’ educations – and athletics – would be through new, solid partnerships?

The only thing we have to lose is a bit of our tradition. We’ve already lost five football teams.