A member of our staff came into the office one afternoon last week, and asked me how many people are on the field during a field hockey game.
It was no trick question; it was an honest one - and the answer is simple: Eleven on each side, including the goalie.
I wondered what prompted the question, and the response was, "Then how is Juniata going to do it with only eight girls on the team?"
As it turns out, my co-worker - coincidentally, a Juniata product - didn't see the whole squad at practice, or perhaps just miscounted. On Saturday, there were an even dozen at a scrimmage with Forbes Road.
But the numbers still are telling, and what they say, most people won't want to hear: In some sports, Juniata County's self-funding athletics plan is not working.
Part of it, of course, is the tradition factor. Soccer is more popular at both of the county's schools, and the high turnout last year across the board reflected that.
But the Indians boast the second-highest female population among field hockey schools in District 6 (the PIAA number is 221), yet have a roster that may not exceed Belleville Mennonite's, where only 16 girls were counted for the two-year classification cycle that just began.
Field hockey, regrettably, seems to be the poster child for all that is wrong with Juniata's pay-to-play system, and not one of the players, coaches or parents deserves the blame for it. Point that finger at nine residents of the school district who were elected to run it, but seem content washing their hands of a situation they also are largely responsible for creating.
This isn't about the funding issue, which the board has at least made a minimal effort to address since it first voted to end extracurricular support last year. This is about who's in charge - and when the board ceded its responsibility to parents, it put people in charge of athletic programs who, by nature, are most likely to let self-interest trump that of the team as a whole.
No, it hasn't been that way in all sports. But field hockey more than the others has been a lightning rod for controversy from the beginning of last season.
Over the course of last fall, I received complaints of a coach who was divvying up playing time based on payments, not performance. Another parent said, without two teams, some girls would never have seen the field. I heard of an alleged petition to keep one school's girls away from the other when a co-op was proposed, along with misrepresentations of what the co-op terms would have been, and which school wanted it quashed.
Lack of cooperation spiked another proposed cooperative - wrestling - largely over issues of money and limited roster spots. Now that both teams have fewer wrestlers, the booster clubs have struck an agreement to merge beginning this year.
And in football, one school has a team solely because another district props it up. Without the Midd-West cooperative, East Juniata players' only choice would be to join a single county team. A passionate coach briefly lost his job a year ago arguing to keep his program separate, but I wonder where the argument is to keep Juniata County kids together on one team (especially since, under the PIAA's cooperative rules adopted last year, the three schools could merge for football and still be in Class AAA, where the co-op team is now)?
Remember, each time you create a cooperative team, you make more funding available from the district for athletics - meaning less contribution by individuals, which undoubtedly has cost some kids the opportunity to participate in sports in Juniata County since last year.
And that's what really counts - scholastic sports creates better students, and better citizens. Offering the chance to more kids to be part of that is better for the community at large.
Among the values taught by athletics are leadership skills - skills that seem to be lacking among the members of the Juniata County school board, at least when it comes to calling the shots for the school district's athletic programs. Perhaps those nine citizens need to stop by a few practices and take a refresher course before their next meeting.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.