JOHNSTOWN – Few high school teams in New York have enjoyed the success of the Johnstown field hockey team.
The Lady Bills won state titles in 1983, 1984, 1989 and 1990, and also were state finalists in 1985, 1988, 1991, 1993 and 2019. Johnstown also has won 15 Section II titles, the last coming in 2019.
But with the Greater Johnstown School District considering a departure from the Foothills Council for the Western Athletic Conference, Johnstown field hockey coach Christine Krempa is concerned about the future of her program since the WAC doesn’t sponsor a field hockey league.
“This move will make my program weaker every year going forward,” Krempa said. “We won’t have a consistent schedule; finding games isn’t easy as it is now and filling a 16-game [independent] schedule will be nearly impossible.”
The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposal at Thursday’s meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Knox Building.
Johnstown has struggled in several sports in the Foothills Council, where it is the smallest school in the league made up of Class A and B schools.
However, the WAC doesn’t offer boys’ lacrosse, girls’ lacrosse or field hockey, leaving those teams without a league. The Foothills Council could add them as associate members for those sports only, but that seems unlikely.
“This move doesn’t create equity for all student-athletes,” Krempa said. “It’s a simple as that. This decision will leave three teams [boys’ lacrosse, girls’ lacrosse and field hockey’ out, and it’s going to hurt those programs in my opinion. The WAC doesn’t offer those sports and the Foothills Council is not going to accommodate us as an associate member. They’ve already voted ‘No’ twice [in an informal straw poll].”
With only three leagues – the Foothills Council, the Wasaren/Adirondack and the Suburban Council – offering field hockey, options would be limited for the Lady Bills.
“The only options left for us if we’re not in the Foothills harm our program, irrevocably,” Krempa said. “An independent schedule is not viable for the long term and joining another league like the Wasaren/Adirondack League adds a ton of travel time. Reducing travel time is one of the reasons given for wanting to join the WAC, and that won’t be the case for us at all. As it is, we can’t get buses now, so that won’t help the situation.”
The Western Athletic Conference presently includes Canajoharie, Duanesburg, Fort Plain, Fonda-Fultonville, Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Schoharie, Middleburgh, Mayfield, Northville, Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville, Galway, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons and Mekeel Christian Academy.
The Foothills Council includes Johnstown, Gloversville, Broadalbin-Perth, Amsterdam, Scotia-Glenville, South Glens Falls, Queensbury, Glens Falls, Schuylerville and Hudson Falls.
In addition to Johnstown, Cobleskill-Richmondville also is considering joining the Western Athletic Conference for the 2023-24 school year.
Cobleskill-Richmondville, currently a member of the Colonial Council, applied last March to join the WAC, according to athletic director John Henry.
“We’re hoping to hear something on their decision in mid-October,” he said.
Declining enrollments and struggles on the field at both Cobleskill-Richmondville and Johnstown have led to the districts considering their options.
Since 2014-15, Cobleskill-Richmondville’s BEDS numbers have declined from 434 to a projected 344 for the 2022-23 school year, while Johnstown’s enrollment has fallen from 452 in 2014-15 to 345 for the 2022-23 school year.
“Johnstown’s student population, while leveling out, has decreased significantly in the last two decades. Schools in the Western Athletic Conference seem to have a better-matched student population to that of Johnstown,” Crankshow said. “Therefore, student population and the resulting competitive pool as members in the Foothills Council may create a largely disparate situation for most of our athletic teams. Another idea is that WAC schools are generally within a closer geographic range than those of the Foothills Council.”
BEDS, which stands for Basic Educational Data System, numbers are used by to determine school classifications for athletics.
A departure by Johnstown would mean the first change for the Foothills Council lineup since it added Schuylerville and Amsterdam for the 2014-15 school year.
“I’m highly upset and disappointed that we’re not adopting the mindset that facing tougher competition will make you better,” Krempa said. “This seems like we’re taking the easy way out — and what kind of message is that sending? Instead of working harder to get better, this just feels like we want to take the easy way out.”
Should Cobleskill-Richmondville and Johnstown join the WAC, they would join Fonda-Fultonville as the only Class B schools in a league comprised of mostly Class C and D schools.
“The solution to our athletic problems is hard work and putting time in, not switching leagues. It’s not always fun or glamorous, but it’s what you need to do to be successful,” Krempa said. “I also feel like our success is almost being used against us because it seems like they’re saying ‘your program is strong and it will be OK no matter what.’ That’s not how it works.”
In her 14 years as coach, Krempa said that she has been fully invested in developing her program and players — both on and off the field.
“I think it’s worth noting that we are the most successful program the school has – both on and off the field,” Krempa said. “We’ve sent a ton of girls on to college that might not have otherwise gone. We’ve had plenty of salutatorians, valedictorians and scholar-athlete winners as well.”
She also was the main driver behind efforts to raise funds for the school’s athletic program when it was cut due to budget woes in 2019.
“I spent a whole summer in 2019 raising funds for all athletics when sports were cut when the budget was voted down,” Krempa said. “It feels like the rug is being pulled out from under me. This is a direct affront to female athletics because two of the three teams most affected are female teams.”
Johnstown offers baseball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, bowling, boys’ and girls’ cross-country, football, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, boys’ and girls’ alpine skiing, boys’ and girls’ Nordic skiing, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ tennis, boys’ and girls’ track and field, boys’ and girls’ swimming, wrestling, girls’ volleyball, softball, field hockey and golf.
Being competitive in the Foothills Council has been a challenge for many of Johnstown’s teams.
“I was 8-9 in my first two years. We all have ebbs and flows, and I work very hard to make sure that our ebbs are much smaller,” said Krempa, whose daughters Cole and Caroline are juniors on this year’s field hockey team. “Our program is year-round and that’s what you need to do to be competitive. I start with the kids when they are in elementary school. We have a fall program for them, and then we go to two indoor tournaments and play in the spring. We also go to camps in the summer. You have to make them fall in love with the sport and they have to want to play for you.”
After putting in so much time and effort in her program, Krempa said that she’s disappointed that she finds herself in this position.
“In my opinion, I don’t know why the opinions of coaches who haven’t been here that long matter more than mine, especially when I’ve been doing this for 14 years. We’re the most successful program and have been for a long time. It’s just exhausting to have to continually fight for your program year after year, and especially now, right in the middle of our season,” she said. “This move would knowingly create a disparity for some teams and not others. Why you would make a move that doesn’t benefit all of your teams is beyond me. With this move, you would be leaving three teams out there in the wind.”