Co-op team gets one more season

Juniata County teams to merge 2018-19 season

Sentinel photos by JULIANNE CAHILL
East Juniata High School Assistant Football Coach Simon Cameron speaks in favor of the continuation of the co-op program at a school board meeting held Thursday evening at Fermanagh-Mifflintown Elementary School, as members of the team look on.

MIFFLINTOWN — The East Juniata Tigers have scored some overtime.

The Juniata County Board of School Directors voted during a meeting Thursday evening to continue the football co-op between East Juniata and Midd-West high schools for one more season.

The contract will be discontinued after the 2017-18 season. Beginning during the 2018-19 school year, EJ players will join Juniata High School’s team.

The decision came just one week after football players, coaches and parents were notified of the proposed change.

Thursday’s meeting at Fermanagh-Mifflintown Elementary School was standing-room only, as the team and its supporters filled the cafeteria. The boys donned their maroon and gray jerseys, then stood one by one to ask the board to vote in favor of continuing their football program.

“Those who haven’t been in the locker room won’t understand,” Mason Hambright, speaking on behalf of the team, said.

He said the team has been one of the biggest blessings in his life, and ending the co-op would leave players without a place to play, band members and cheerleaders without a team to cheer for and the community without a team to support.

“(The players) don’t want any other team,” he said about the possibility of combining EJ and JHS teams. “They want this team.”

Chris Schulgen, Class of 2016, said the co-op brought two schools together and allowed him to make friends he wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Then, there are the logistics of such a change.

John Moyer, a current player, said he lives at the far eastern end of the county and would have to travel about 45 minutes to attend practices at Juniata High School. He encouraged school directors to let the boys go home and play the same football they’ve been playing since the co-op began.

Each of the players who spoke called their team a brotherhood — a group of friends who support each other both on and off the field. Ending the co-op would be like breaking up a family, they said.

In total, eight individuals spoke against the dissolution of the agreement with Midd-West School District. They cited concerns about involvement if the program is moved to JHS, which is a significant distance for parents to drive their children back and forth from practices.

Coaches said it is likely fewer EJ boys will have the opportunity to play football when it moves across the county, and ending the co-op so abruptly would leave Midd-West athletes without football in any capacity next season.

The board considered three options regarding the team: approval of a successive two-year agreement with MWSD for a combined football program, as it currently stands; disapproval and dissolution of the agreement and merging of the EJ and JHS teams for the 2017-18 season and all subsequent years; or approval of the continuation of the agreement for the 2017-18 season to allow for finalization of the program.

Director Amy Wagner moved to continue the agreement through 2017-18, and join EJ and JHS for the 2018-19 season. Director Christine McLaughlin seconded the motion.

The motion passed with an 8-0 vote. Director Larry Rothrock was not in attendance.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, Juniata County’s football teams will merge. The team will be based at Juniata High School and play at Dietrick Field.