CLARION – Forget mascots, school colors and names — and look ahead to the future. Other decisions have to be made first.
Dave Eggleton, head football coach at Clarion-Limestone, and Larry Wiser, head football coach at Clarion Area, got together recently to talk about their football programs and the challenges they faced.
Both coaches were worried that at some point down the road they might not have enough students to put a team on the field because of many factors, including declining overall enrollment, competition from other activities, and even student interest.
The possibility was discussed of a cooperative football program that would include C-L, Clarion and North Clarion, which already partners with Clarion.
“The numbers in football is not just a C-L [or] Clarion thing,” Eggleton said. “We’re seeing it all over. There are a lot of schools that are really struggling with numbers and looking at different co-ops. There are eight different co-ops in our district now. It is a societal problem. There’s a lot more of options, even outside of sports.”
Wiser feels the same.
“We’re interested in the kids and keeping good programs here,” Wiser said.
Both coaches talked with their superintendents — Amy Glasl at Clarion-Limestone and Michael Stahlman at Clarion Area — and the next step is up to the administrators and school boards.
“If it’s good for our program and good for our athletes, I have no problem working hard to make that happen,” Stahlman said. “I think it’s going to take a lot longer than some people think. We’re at least a year, if not two years away from being able to do anything if everybody talks and comes together and agrees on it.
“We need to have a discussion about this and have the appropriate stakeholders at the table and bring back a proposal to the boards and let them get some input and public input and move forward from there.”
Although the community is already talking, nothing has happened; and officials stress it will take time. Asked to rate the process of a merger from one to 10, Stahlman said he thought they weren’t even at one yet.
“In the end, both school districts, C-L and Clarion, absolutely have the kids as number one priority,” Glasl said. “Students need to have a reason to come to school. If there are students out there that come to school to play football, Clarion-Limestone is going to take time and invest and look at what we need to do to make that happen.”
Glasl said C-L School Board members are looking at dates for discussions.
“We’re looking at dates,” Glasl said. “The discussion now is it going to be an open session or a closed session. I would say the majority of my board wants it to be an open forum and organized. There is still a question of what the people mean by open or closed. We could still have a public forum where the two sides present their information and the public could hear the reasoning, but not be able to voice their own opinion. We don’t want anyone in our community to be blind-sided.”
Numbers of players were a challenge for C-L this year.
“We started with 22 guys dressing and ended with 16. You need 22 to practice 11 on 11,” Eggleton said. “A lot of times guys are blocking a coach holding a bag in practice rather than giving them a real live look at it.
“Coach Wiser and I kind of want the same thing. My kids can continue to have the opportunity to play football at both schools and at North Clarion. There are three schools involved and with the numbers the way they are, there’s a legitimate worry that there might not be enough players to finish the season at some point.”
During games, the majority of Eggleton’s players did not come off the field during the full 48-minute game, except for halftime.
“That’s obviously not what you want, it’s not good for their safety sometime,” he said. “We had some kids play through pain and it’s not what you would consider best for the kids.”
Eggleton did not feel enrollment was much of the problem at C-L, but competition from other sport and activities, adds to the problem.
“Enrollment being down here is not a big issue, but a lot of the reason is that there are several other fall sports,” he explained. “Years ago when I was in school, I don’t think there was a soccer team yet. Cross-country. There might have been golf, but it was just starting out. We’re providing kids more opportunities, which is great, but when you’re in a small school district you only have so many boys come out. I think there are only 100 boys in grades nine through 11 to pull from next year. We don’t have a lot of kids to begin with.”
Clarion Enrollment Dropping
“You have to think about our graduation numbers, too,” Stahlman said. “We’ve gone from graduating as many as mid-80s in any given year down to the 70s and now we’re going to drop down to averaging around 60 and we have one small seventh grade class that is barely 40 students. Our total student body is down. We still have enough student athletes to host a football program for the next couple of years, but we won’t have the numbers we had the last couple of years. We’re still going to put a team on the field and we’ll do our best.”
For the first time in Wiser’s career as football coach, going back to 1973 as assistant and 1987 as head coach, he only had three sophomores go out for the team last year.
“Last year I had 32 kids at the start of the season and ended with 26 kids,” Wiser said. “Both of our numbers in junior high are the lowest they have ever been. I think we had 22 kids playing at the end of the season and they had something like 20. With those kinds of numbers, we’re getting kids out there that play almost every down. You also get kids out there that are playing earlier than they probably should be in terms of being able to protect themselves and the important role of also protecting other players.”
It’s going to take some time if a decision is made to proceed with some type of consolidation arrangement, but it can be done.
“The first thing I did after my meeting with Dave was call Bob Tonkin from PIAA to see if we could still do this,” Wiser said. “There are only specific times where you can declare a co-op. We’re really past the time when we can do this — I think it was November or December to submit the paper to make a change. For example, if we would go out to C-L, it couldn’t happen now and it would be two years because they would be changing classifications from A to AA. I wanted to see if it was still a possibility if C-L came and joined Clarion and North Clarion. He said yes because you wouldn’t be changing the classification.
“Administrators would take the next step to see if this would be possible,” he continued. “The boards would have to work out so many things — bands, who hires and fires coaches, where you practice, who’s financially responsible for what, etc. There are plenty examples in the area of it being done ...with A-C Valley and Union, and Ridgway and Johnsonburg.”
Sports and Arts
Seven months into the job as superintendant at C-L, Glasl feels if they are going to do it, it should be done right.
“I’m a mom and I have four children. All three of my oldest boys were in sports,” she said. “I’m a sports mom. I’ve had the experience with my children and know how important sports are; it’s just so important to students’ overall well-being and their educational experience at the school district. Every student needs to be involved in something and they need a reason to come to school.
“I want to talk to the kids and players to see what they want. Sometimes the adults get in the way. The kids make friendships in sports and band. The memories you make can never be taken back. It’s important to have sports and the arts, so we’ll do what we need to do. But we can’t do it in a rush.”