Leading off today:
One of the most prolific careers in New York high school football history draws to a close Friday afternoon when Tioga takes on Ticonderoga for the NYSPHSAA Class D football championship at the Carrier Dome.
Tioga senior running back Jesse Manuel takes the field for the final time having rolled up some mind-boggling numbers through 48 career games, including:
- 8,376 rushing yards, second in state history to Onondaga's Mike Hart (11,045).
- 122 touchdowns, third to Hart (204) and North Babylon's Jason Gwaltney (135).
Manuel's five-TD, 302-yard performance against Bishop Kearney in the semifinals raised his 2015 totals to 42 and 2,658, respectively.
"We'll take credit for some of it, but he's just so fast and strong, and he loves to hit people," senior tackle Zach Hutchinson told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. "That's the difference between him and a lot of other backs, he loves to lay the lumber."
Tioga vs. Ticonderoga kicks off at noon and will be followed by Buffalo South Park vs. Our Lady of Lourdes in Class A at 3 p.m. and Chenango Forks vs. Greenwich in Class C at 6 p.m.
Stepinac attack hobbled: Archbishop Stepinac quarterback Tyquell Fields has been limited in practice this week by a sprained ankle. The Journal News reports he is expected to play in Saturday's state CHSAA championship game against St. Francis, but he isn't expected to be at full strength.
Fields, who has thrown for 2,029 yards and 20 touchdowns and has also carried for 435 yards and five scores, was hurt in the CHSFL AAA championship victory vs. Cardinal Hayes.
"It's getting better, but I don't think I'll be 100 percent," Fields said. "I'll still be ready to go."
Shrinking resources: Information discussed Tuesday in a meeting at Caledonia-Mumford illustrates quite bluntly the slow, undeniable deterioration in the viability of the school district -- its athletics for now and the district as a whole down the road.
And I'll bet there are at least 75 more districts almost exactly like Cal-Mum scattered across New York, where the population is stagnant at best but more likely is late in the second decade or early in the third of shrinking steadily.
What is means for Cal-Mum is that its football program probably will no longer be sustainable on its own by the year 2020, and that's why the district is moving ahead now with plans. The district has entered into a tentative agreement with Byron-Bergen to combine football programs, a two-year experiment that is likely to last longer than that and may also spark similar arrangements between small schools south and west of Monroe County.
The Genesee Sun reported data presented (see the PDF) by AD Mike Reed showed Cal-Mum had 157 boys enrolled in grades 9-12 this fall, with 81 of them playing a sport. According to projections, the district could be down to barely 100 boys in the same grade range by 2021.
Adding a projected 31 Byron-Bergen players to the nearly 60 Cal-Mum expects to field from its own grades 7-12 next fall allows for the restoration of a junior varsity and would keep the Red Raiders from continuing to be overly reliant upon freshmen and sophomore on the varsity. There were nine 10th-graders on this fall's 24-player roster.
The dominoes may start falling in fairly rapid succession if all the necessary parties sign off on the collaboration between Cal-Mum and B-B. Right off the bat, Elba will likely need a new partner to replace the football players Byron-Bergen had been supplying to their combined program for the past several seasons. If that partner turns out to be Oakfield-Alabama, it drops the Genesee Region football league down to just six teams since Cal-Mum/B-B will be playing the the Livingston County Athletic Association.
An even bigger deal: The Cal-Mum/B-B development is small potatoes in comparison with a potential full merger of the Elmira Heights and Horseheads school districts. Residents will take part in non-binding straw polls next Thursday, and a majority vote in the affirmative from both districts will start in motion additional planning and discussion leading up to a referendum early next year.
If the second vote passes in both districts, the process of merging all operations could begin as early as next fall.
According to the Star-Gazette, officials from the 4,200-student Horseheads district and 1,100-student Elmira Heights district said the merger is being pursued because they can't sustain the recent pattern of staff and program cuts to close budget deficits.