Schools of Thought: Merger questions remain in volleyball

As I was sitting in the Oppenheim-Ephratah gym watching the volleyball team rally for a stirring win over the Mohawk Mohicans last week, I started thinking about the program’s future.

In December, Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District voters approved a merger with the St. Johnsville Central School District that will go into effect in July, and students will attend a new combined district in the fall.

It’s obvious what’s going to happen once the two districts are merged for most of the sports, especially since in 2012-13, the two districts played on combined sports teams. After playing in St. Johnsville for the fall and winter, the two school boards recently announced that O-E players could play on the St. Johnsville baseball and softball teams in the spring as the districts prepare for merger.

They won’t be called St. Johnsville next year and probably won’t go by the moniker “St. JOE” either, but the new merged district is expected to take the spot occupied by St. Johnsville in the Western Athletic Conference in Section II.

For just about every sport, the merged team will fit seamlessly into its place, but volleyball is the lone exception.

The Oppenheim-Ephratah volleyball program is part of Section III and the Center State Conference, which plays volleyball in the winter. Just about everyone else in the state plays volleyball in the fall.

Now, at face value, it’s easy to assume the newly merged volleyball program, which will continue to exist since the whole point of consolidation is to keep more programs, would play in the fall since the new district is expected to be a Section II school.

Personally, I would like to see everyone play in the fall, but some of these stubborn small schools in Section III are hanging on to winter. The Dolgeville volleyball team is a perennial champion in Section III winter volleyball. I would love – and I’m sure any other serious fan of high school volleyball also would – to see how the Lady Blue Devils measure up against the rest of the like-sized volleyball teams in the state.

We don’t get to find out, however, as the state volleyball champion is crowned a few weeks into Dolgeville’s preseason.

See the problem there?

Anyway, I chatted with St.JOE volleyball coach Brittany Tomek briefly after the match last week and she said she doesn’t know yet which season the new team will occupy, but she did say she thinks a move to the fall would hurt her program since she has three soccer players on the varsity roster. One of them, Mackenzie Ferguson, however, is a senior and won’t be a part of the new program. That leaves freshman Hannah Taylor and sophomore Leann Knapp as the only two crossover players on the varsity roster who are expected back next year. There could be more on the JV teams, but I don’t have rosters for those.

Why do winter volleyball coaches always assume a move to the fall is going to hurt them? Athletes could just as easily choose volleyball over soccer.

As a school that will likely play in Section II, I’m expecting the new district to join the ranks of Section II volleyball, playing in the fall season. Yes, there might be some growing pains in both sports as some athletes will have to choose one or the other, but life is about choice. For good or ill, everyone, even teenagers, have to make hard decisions that will affect the course of their lives.

The programs may suffer slightly with the loss of a couple players on both sides, but after a couple seasons, they will settle and move into the future as a combined team.

Mike Zummo is a sportswriter for The Leader-Herald. We invite your feedback on this or any other sports-related topic. E-mail your opinions or ideas to us at [email protected].

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