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Friday, Feb. 10, 2017: Section 3 bringing back eight-man football

   Leading off today: The numbers are modest, but eight-man football is back in New York.

   And as was suggested here two months ago, Section 3 is leading the charge. Bishop Grimes, South Lewis, New York Mills and Cooperstown have signed up for the region's first eight-man league in at least four decades, and other schools could be added this spring if it becomes apparent they will have trouble fielding a team in the fall.

   Schools will play by largely the same rules as 11-man football. Fields this season will be the same dimensions, although some states use a narrower and shorter field, reported.

   "It's what many smaller communities have done," sectional football co-chairman Keith Kempney said, adding that 30 other states have eight-man football. "Basically, the only place that doesn't have it is the Northeast."

   The National Football Foundation league for small schools with struggling programs will not return for a fourth season, it was also announced.

   More Section 3 football: With just nine available teams, Section 3 will go to an eight-game regular-season in Class A and eliminate the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Central Square moves back up to Class AA, and Cortland and New Hartford dropped into B based on enrollment drops.

    • LaFayette and Tully will field a combined Class C team called Southern Hills.

    • Phoenix and South Jefferson, which are Class B programs based on enrollment, will play Class C schedules and give up the opportunity to participate in sectionals.

   More football and enrollments: The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has posted BEDS figures for the 2017-18 school year in a PDF format. Those are the numbers that shape the classification of schools.

   The New York State Sportswriters Association's Steve Grandin took a quick look at the impact on Section 2 football in 2017 and ran into what is probably a recurring there throughout much of the state -- more teams moving down than up. In fact, two of last season's best Class C schools, Greenwich and Hoosic Valley, have slid down to Class D to challenge traditional contender Cambridge. The smallest of the five classes apparently grows from seven to 12 squads and Class C membership plunges from 18 to 13.

   My look at Section 5 turned up surprisingly little movement, though Honeoye Falls-Lima and Penn Yan more down to Class B and C respectively, making each a threat to reach a playoff title game.

   What really grabbed my attention is that the BEDS numbers for two schools fell off a cliff. Penn Yan dropped from 426 to 357. University Prep, whose number is doubled to reflect the fact it's an all-male school, slid from 446 to 366.

   If that number is accurate, UPrep just barely stays in Class B (the Class C ceiling is 364). That's interesting in the context of the school's appeal last month to the State Education Department to be moved from Class AA to B in basketball.

   After I mentioned Penn Yan and UPrep, Steve ran the current BEDS data vs. next season's numbers in a spreadsheet to show the enrollment gains or losses for all NYSPHSAA schools.

   That comes with our standard warning: Don't put too much faith in the numbers for public schools in Buffalo and Rochester, which routinely open, close, consolidate and sub-divide schools, creating combined programs in multiple sports that befuddle even savvy observers. As it stands now, Buffalo Bennett -- which was in Class C in 2015, Class A in 2016 and will probably not exist under that name in 2017 -- is headed for Class AA as a combined entity with as many as six other Buffalo City Schools.

   Larry Byrne dies: Larry Byrne, the track and field historian whose "Blue Book" has long been the definitive guide to New York high school records in the sport, died Thursday.

   Byrne also published a "Green Book" of cross country marks run at the famed Van Cortlandt Park.

   After serving 22 years in the Marines, Byrne began coaching in 1971 at Chaminade High where he was an assistant and later a head coach for the indoor squad. It was during this time that he began compiling his record books and immersing himself in the sport year-round. His duties included serving as invitation director for the prestigious high school mile at the Millrose Games for 34 years. The race now bears his name.

   Byrne's class-by-class records for indoor and outdoor track were a staple of our New York State Sportswriters Association newsletters for decades. In 2013, he began collaborating with MileSplit to preserve the historical work online.

   Following up: Section 6 has made a decision regarding a weekend boys hockey incident but the punishment has not been revealed, The Buffalo News reported.

   Sectional hockey chairman and Williamsville East AD Mark DiFilippo declined to share the specifics with the paper. The incident, captured on video, happened during the second period of the game between Williamsville East and Clarence. A Williamsville East player being escorted to the penalty box threw an elbow at the referee to break free. The official then pushed the player in the back, followed by the player shoving the referee to the ice.

   Section 6 Executive Director Timm Slade declined to comment, as did Brian Panek, who assigns officials to Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation games.

   Coach appointed: Craig Cavotta, who resigned at Columbia High following last season, was introduced Wednesday as the new football coach at Mechanicville.

   He replaces Erik Smith, who led the team to a 7-3 mark in an interim role after Kevin Collins left just days before the fall season started to accept a teaching position at Greenwich. Collins was later appointed AD at Greenwich.

   Cavotta spent 13 years in the Columbia program, including the last six as its head coach.

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