Word came though Friday that the St. Johnsville and Oppenheim-Ephratah central school districts have reached an agreement to combine sports programs for the upcoming winter season.
Once again, combining teams makes perfect sense for both monetary and competitive reasons.
Obviously, Oppenheim-Ephratah saved the most by being able to send its athletes to St. Johnsville free of charge in the fall for soccer. During the winter, the Hawks will once again send its athletes to St. Johnsville for basketball, while St. Johnsville will send its athletes that want to play volleyball to Oppenheim-Ephratah, which will administer that program.
Monetarily, during the fall, it seemed as though Oppenheim-Ephratah was getting a free ride when its students were able to play on the St. Johnsville soccer teams free of charge.
During the winter, things will seem a little more even as St. Johnsville students will be allowed to play on the Oppenheim-Ephratah girls volleyball team, which participates in Section III's Center State Conference, which plays in the winter.
The boys basketball teams will combine and play under the St. Johnsville banner like the soccer teams do this season, but it's on the girls' side where the basketball combination makes the most sense.
St. Johnsville has a girls' basketball team. Oppenheim-Ephratah does not. In a small district like Oppenheim-Ephratah, which has a BEDS count of 86 for the 2012-13 season, it is difficult to to field both girls' basketball and volleyball, two sports that otherwise might share some of the same athletes if they were played in separate seasons.
Due to that and the difficulty some schools may have dividing gym space between two basketball programs and volleyball, winter volleyball never made much sense to me. If a school has a wrestling program, that adds even more strain on limited space.
It's been so difficult that Oppenheim-Ephratah has not had girls' basketball in recent years. It wasn't until the sports mergers started a few years ago that O-E girls had an opportunity to play varsity basketball. Once again, in addition to saving money, a combined team is providing opportunities a single-district team is unable to give.
The same goes the other way as St. Johnsville has never had a volleyball program in any season, winter or fall. Now, they have an opportunity they wouldn't have had before, and the volleyball team will play under the Oppenheim-Ephratah banner.
There was a concern among some Oppenheim-Ephratah district residents that the fall plan, which has St. Johnsville administering the two soccer programs, seemed too much like annexation by the neighboring district, unlike the previous arrangement when the two districts split the cost of administering the programs under the St.JOE moniker.
The previous arrangement ended last season when Oppenheim-Ephratah residents voted down the proposed merger of the two school districts.
But the success of the combined teams shows joining forces can work even if the two districts don't merge. The only way they can now is if Oppenheim-Ephratah residents petition the state Department of Education for a revote.