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Clarion/C-L Football Program Co-op Discussions Only in Infancy Stage

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CLARION, Pa.  – Could the Clarion and Clarion-Limestone football programs become one?

(Photo by Kyle Yates

It is a possibility that the two long-time rivals could end up in a cooperative agreement, but a lot of discussions would have to take place between the schools, including North Clarion, which Clarion currently has a cooperative agreement with, before that would happen.

“If it is something that could benefit our kids and the program in the long run, I’m going to do everything I can to help make it happen,” Clarion superintendent Mike Stahlman said. “It could be a real plus for the program and our kids. It needs to have some good, hard discussion, and the adults need to not put up political roadblocks and do their best to work in the interest of students and children.”

The Clarion Board has yet to take up the issue at a public meeting.

The C-L School Board discussed the matter at its January 18 meeting. At this time, C-L superintendent Amy Glasl said that the district would be willing to consider a co-op only if the Clarion-Limestone football name and the school’s blue and gold colors were kept and nothing else.

“I don’t know each board member’s opinion on the matter,” Glasl told exploreClarion/D9Sports in a phone interview on January 24. “As a group, that is what they wanted me to say.”

Glasl said that further discussion on the topic and others should take place later this week.

“I should know more late this week,” Glasl said. “I know the reason we talked about it at the meeting was because we don’t want to do anything behind our school district’s back. People in our community had heard from people in Clarion’s district more than anyone in our district administration or our board even knew. We wanted to make that statement that our community needs to be part of this decision. The board wanted to make it public. We are a community at C-L.”

If the stance at C-L is to only do a co-op if the co-op takes places under the C-L moniker and with C-L blue and gold colors, that could be a major roadblock to any real discussions taking place.

“I disagree with how C-L wants to go about it, but why not talk about it?” Stahlman said. “I have talked to some board members at Clarion. As a board and as a district, we are willing to listen to any proposal. But, becoming C-L Lions would probably be a stumbling block difficult to overcome. Still, we are willing to listen to any proposal.”

Glasl said she didn’t know what the reaction in C-L would be if Clarion asked that the co-op be under the Bobcats moniker and the colors be Clarion’s black and orange.

“C-L Lions is tradition,” Glasl said. “But, I know our board cares about kids, and kids want to play football. I do believe my board will talk. I don’t think it will end. I think we will have a discussion. How that will happen, I don’t know. Minus the name, where are we really? But, with the number of kids we have, how long can we play? Can we wait two years?”

Many people on both sides of the discussion, including Stahlman, believe the best way for a co-op between all three schools involved to happen would be to create a completely separate identity for the program with a separate mascot – not the Bobcats, not the Lions – and different colors than the Clarion Black and Orange and the C-L Blue and Gold.

And, any discussion also needs to include North Clarion because of the school’s current co-op with Clarion.

“The North Clarion School Board needs to be consulted as well,” Stahlman said. “I know their superintendent, Steve Young, has told me that travel time for their kids is an important component. That in order for it to work, practices would need to be kept at Clarion.”

Young confirmed that the practice location would be a concern of his school district if all three schools combined to form one team.

“We have been with Clarion for six years,” Young said. “It has been a great experience for our kids. Clarion has a terrific program with an excellent coach in Larry Wiser. One of the most difficult parts is getting them to practice. If we co-op practice at C-L, that is another 15 to 20 minutes to commute. That is a real challenge for our students.”

Young said he hopes his school district will be part of the discussions but understands that Clarion is the host school of the current North Clarion/Clarion co-op.

“Ultimately, they get to make the final decision,” Young said. “I think they value the co-op we have created and would include us (in the discussions). But, ultimately it comes down to what Clarion wants to do. Up to this point, Clarion has been terrific. It’s been a terrific experience on all levels for our students. It’s just been a good experience across the board.”

North Clarion’s concern about where practices would be held is just one of a multitude of issues that would need to be worked out if any co-op were to take place.

Other issues, which is far from a full list, would include where games are played, who and how coaches would be paid and hired, how the program would be funded, how student-athletes would be transported between the schools for games, and practices and how the boosters clubs would be merged.

Currently, Clarion has a contract with Clarion University to play games at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium, and Stahlman’s feeling is that the University would most likely hold the school to that contract.

A lot of those issues (and others) are part of what the PIAA requires from schools when they form a co-op, and while the booster clubs are not a PIAA issue directly, Stahlman said that issue, in itself, is more complicated than it would appear on the surface. Since the PIAA cares about where the funding comes from, the club(s) could play a role in that.

According to Stahlman, Clarion currently has a football-only booster club while C-L has an all-sports booster club.

“Booster clubs are a concern,” Stahlman said. “When we merged with North Clarion, North Clarion didn’t have a football program, so their parents joined right in with ours, and it worked out very well. C-L has an all-sports booster club. We would have to figure out how to mesh it together. Booster clubs provide great support for football. It is an expensive sport to run. We need to rely on those (clubs). So, they would need to have a seat at the table.”

Glasl also believes the boosters are an important part of the discussion.

“Boosters are important,” Glasl, who also mentioned the band as another stepping stone that that would need to be worked, said. “They need to be a part of this. They do a lot for both of our football teams.”

If the schools – in any combination – decide to create a football co-op the PIAA’s District 9 Committee, eventually the PIAA state committee would have to approve that.

In the past, District 9 secretary Bob Tonkin has told that that process is usually just a formality. Although, it should be noted that the PIAA usually wants co-ops formed prior to new classification cycles being announced, and Tonkin said the PIAA is currently discussing changing the language about when co-ops would have to be formed.

Classification cycles are announced every two years in the odd year before the cycle starts. The last one was in the Fall of 2017.

The schools could still get approval for a co-op prior to the 2020 season – which is the first season of the next new cycle, but some complications could arise from that.

The PIAA requires that one of the schools involved in the co-op be considered the “host school” even if the team would have a different name than the school that is hosting it.

If the co-op would happen prior to 2020, the only way it would work with the new team being eligible for the postseason would be if Clarion was the host school. That is because the Bobcats are currently a Class 2A team and the new team would also be a Class 2A team.

The PIAA is okay with co-ops forming before the new cycle is announced as long as they don’t affect the classification. If the new squad would change classifications before a new cycle is announced, then it would not be allowed to participate in the postseason during the current cycle. The number is determined by the biggest school’s male population numbers, and in this case, Clarion, plus half the male population numbers of any other school involved in the co-op.

If C-L is the host school, then there would be a classification change since the Lions are a Class 1A school.

None of that will probably matter in the end, as Stahlman envisions it taking 18 months or longer for any co-op to come to realization if the talks between the schools even get that far.

“We could probably do it in as little as 12 to 18 months, but it would probably take longer than that,” Stahlman said.

Co-ops in football are a growing trend in District 9, and as noted above, Clarion and North Clarion have been co-opting for the past six years.

At the start of the 2016 season, Union and A-C Valley merged their football programs into one creating the Union/A-C Valley Falcon Knights. A few years prior to that, Johnsonburg and Ridgway did the same thing playing under the Ridgway name. Additional current co-ops include East Forest and Kane playing under the Kane name, Oswayo Valley and Otto-Eldred playing under the Otto-Eldred name (although that seems to be trending more and more towards being called Otto-Eldred/Oswayo Valley), DuBois Central Catholic and Brockway playing under the Brockway name, Abraxas and Sheffield and Austin and Coudersport playing under the Coudersport name. Only Union/A-C Valley and Ridgway/Johnsonburg had separate football program prior to merging. And while Ridgway and Johnsonburg play under the Ridgway moniker, at least two games per season are played in Johnsonburg and with a walk-through practice being held at Johnsonburg prior to games being played there. A similar arrangement is in place with the Union/A-C Valley co-op but with practices alternating between the schools every other week and at least two games being played at A-C Valley.

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