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Knights’ co-op in jeopardy with eight-man football

By Ginna Young

The Cornell and Lake Holcombe school districts agreed to partner for football some years ago, but now Lake Holcombe is questioning if the current 11-man program is the way to go. The matter was discussed at a Lake Holcombe School Board meeting Oct. 26, with the possibility of going to eight-man football.

Kurt Lindau, superintendent, says the eight-man conversation came up a few weeks ago. Since then, the two school athletic directors, the football coach and other stakeholders, have gotten feedback from the public, toward the direction of the current co-oped football program.

In looking at enrollment projection of high school numbers for Cornell and Lake Holcombe for the coming years, Lake Holcombe could be down to 66 in a decade. The enrollment trends show that Cornell’s numbers could hold steady, with the lowest numbers 87 in enrollment.

The reason for transition from 11-man to eight-man football, is significantly declining enrollment; decreased numbers of participating student-athletes; and a mutual agreement among coaches and administration, based on qualitative and quantitative data.

“In order to provide an opportunity for our student-athletes to play football, it is imperative that we transition to eightman by the year 2022,” said Lindau, who added that he’s seen first-hand what happens to a football program when the high school population declines. “I believe the eight-man co-op gives you the greatest opportunity to field a JV team. And I believe that’s imperative to building up a football program.”

Principal Mark Porter said the schools sat down four or five years ago, with coaches, on the viability of sustaining the programs and the understanding that it may come to an eight-man transition.

“I think now it is the time to make a move,” said Porter.

The current co-oped agreement is on a separate year for requesting to go to eight-man, but the WIAA requires notice a year in advance.

“I know that there’s a lot of pride in football in Lake Holcombe,” said Lindau, “and I believe everybody would like to be able to see the ability to maintain an 11-man program – and it’s everybody’s wish to have their own team.”

Anneleise Willmarth, board treasurer, said if enrollment goes up, after the two-year commitment is complete, the schools could go back to 11-man football. Board vice president Matt Flater said there are a lot of things to look at with the partnership.

Flater pointed out that there is an enrollment cap of 200 or less to be eligible for the eight-man tournament.

“If both teams can consistently sustain a program, it’d be kind of neat to rebuild that rivalry,” said Flater, referring to the neighboring rivalry that existed for football between Cornell and Holcombe.

He also said with eight-man programs, the teams would not travel as far to compete and might do better in tournaments. Flater says one of the reasons Lake Holcombe combined with Cornell to form the Knights football team, was to keep a healthy 11-man program.

“It’s a hard sell for me to play for a participation trophy,” said Flater. “Maybe a co-op is still the route to go, but I just don’t think we have that pie filled with data to make a vote on that.”

“Are a lot of the schools that we would play, do they field a JV team right now for eight-man?” asked Willmarth.

Board president Brian Guthman said that’s one of the questions that needs to be answered. He commented that there has been push back from the community on the matter, and that he would like to sit down and hash it through, to make sure whatever the board decides, that it is the right decision for the kids.

Flater said the board needs numbers on how many Lake Holcombe players there are now in the football program, to project going forward. Willmarth agreed, and said she questions if Lake Holcombe would still have enough for eightman, with numbers from the middle school teams on up through high school.

“If they’re in that program now, chances are they’re going to stay in that program,” said Guthman.

The deadline for the decision to transition to eight-man football is Nov. 15, so members agreed to move the next board meeting up a week, to Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 6 p.m. By then, projected numbers will be available, as well as thoughts from the community on going forward.

“I myself would sure hate to see us drop the co-op…” said clerk Jeff Anders, “because if we can’t field enough from our school to have a decent JV system and a varsity system, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”