Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 31, 2013

Declining enrollment blurs school district lines

Niagara Gazette — LYNDONVILLE — It was during the traditional performance-night farewell circle, as students from two different schools tearfully told one another how they'd miss one another, that high school musical director Jennifer Trupo knew her shrinking district's decision to accept cast and crew members from a neighboring town had been a good one.

"They couldn't wait until the next year so they could be together again," Trupo said, recalling the backstage scene before their production of "Legally Blonde" at Lyndonville High School last spring.

Whether things will be quite as cozy in the huddle of Maple Grove High and Chautauqua Lake's new combined football team remains to be seen.

Either way, it's a familiar story as declining enrollments have school districts looking outside of their own student ranks as a way to keep programs alive and thriving.

Demographics consultant Paul Seversky, who analyzes data for districts considering reorganizing services, cited declining birth rates as people wait longer to have children and have fewer once they start.

Cooperative teams have been around for years in places like the Dakotas, Iowa and Montana, but news reports show they are emerging in Vermont and elsewhere, said Bruce Howard of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

"In situations where schools do not have enough students to field an athletic team, this is a great alternative to simply dropping the programs," he said.

The New York Public High School Athletic Association, to accommodate the trend, last month revised a regulation so small teams that combine are not automatically bumped into a more competitive division. Now, only a portion of a smaller school's enrollment will count toward the total enrollment number that determines classification.

The state association has not tallied the number of combined teams in recent years but acknowledged at least 100 new teams for the 2012-13 school year alone, many of them in rural areas where population is scarcer. They ranged from single-sport mergers, like Ballston Spa and Stillwater in Alpine skiing, to full slates of sports. Roscoe and Downsville, near the Catskills, have a 12-sport agreement that includes teaming up in football, soccer, girls' basketball, golf, baseball, softball and cross country.

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