When practice starts this fall for varsity football coach Roy Upson’s Mohicans, the 2012 season will be all he will think about.
Until the last game is played, he will not even think about the proposed merger of the Mohawk, Herkimer and Ilion school districts.
“Beyond (practice) it’s not on the radar,” Upson said.
If the three districts merge, gone will be each school’s team, the identity so tied up with them and the rivalries among the three schools.
“(The games are) bigger because you’re playing your neighbor,” Upson said. “It seems to be the parents that get into it.”
The second of four meetings about the merger will take place Wednesday at Herkimer High School. The first vote, a nonbinding advisory referendum, is scheduled for Sept. 12.
If that passes in all three districts, there will be a final vote in October.
If that is successful, this might be the last season for the Mohawk Mohicans, the Herkimer Magicians and the Ilion Golden Bombers.
Dale Miller, a member of the community advisory committee and a former three-sport Ilion athlete, remembers the rivalries. “There’s lots and lots of history there,” he said. “You do lose a certain amount of pride and that label.”
Miller said the community advisory committee spent a lot of time thinking about sports and loss of identity. “They were hard conversations because they mean a lot to people,” he said.
Parents and students have voiced concerns that a larger school — the merged district will be about the same size as the Whitesboro Central School District — will mean more competition for spots on popular teams, such as football, and leave students who would have made the cut in their home district on the sidelines.
“The people who will adjust the best to this will be the kids; the people who will adjust the worst will probably be the parents,” Miller said. “Certainly, a kid who really wants to play football and will be looking in from the outside will be tough.”
The football teams now, he pointed out, have players who play defense, offense and special teams. A merged district might be able to give students a more specialized skill set at different positions.
There also could be more sports.
According to the three-district merger study, the three schools each offer 17 varsity sports opportunities and 16 junior varsity and modified sports. There are 12 other sports not currently offered, such as boys gymnastics, hockey, swimming and even rifling.
Dick Clapper, 65, of Mohawk, is a super fan. A Mohawk alum and owner of Clapper’s Hollow ice cream stand, he tries to make it to as many games to as many Mohawk sports as possible, boys and girls. But he gladly would set aside his Mohican pride if it means more opportunities for students.
“It’s going to be a lot better,” he said. “(But) it’s going to take a little bit of time” to get used to.
He echoed Upson’s feeling that parents are more into the rivalries than the students.
“I don’t think they have to worry about the kids at all,” he said. “Maybe the parents a little bit. I just feel that most of the people who go to the sporting events know the kids here locally, even if they go to Ilion, Mohawk or Herkimer.”
Interim Herkimer Superintendent Gary Tutty said the state will give the district an official name, the Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk Central School District (alphabetical by community), but that the community can call itself whatever it wants.
“I love the fact that the schools are struggling with identity. That says so much about how people support the schools,” Tutty said. “I think our message is we need to look toward a new identity.”
A new merged school will rank as Class A and face off against similar-sized schools such as Whitesboro, New Hartford and the Oneida City School District.
“The competition will increase, but at the same time there will be all kinds of sport that they’ve never had an opportunity for before in valley,” Tutty said.
And, he said, students get cut from teams already.
“I tell each of them when they’re disappointed, find something else. They find something they never thought of (before).”