By Erik Pekar, Town Historian
The anticipated vote of the Granville Board of Education on a proposal to combine the Granville and Whitehall football teams and allow Whitehall students to play on the Granville soccer team was held at a board meeting on March 9. The football and soccer items were each voted on separately; both were approved by the school board. The renewal of the cross country merger was also approved.
Whitehall’s school board had approved the merger at its meeting on Feb. 22.
The decision was met with varied reaction. Some applauded the board’s decision. The football players on both teams, who were noted in February as wanting a merger to happen, will be pleased with the board’s decision. Community supporters of the merger have also noted in defense of the merger that the cross country teams have already merged, or that the Granville-Whitehall rivalry has not really existed since the early 2000s at the latest. For those who have been encouraging, working on, and advocating for a merger of the football teams, this approval marked the culmination of efforts going back to the fall of 2019.
Others expressed disappointment in the approval of the merger, or lamented the impending loss of separate identities for Granville’s and Whitehall’s football teams. A Whitehall resident said, “there goes 100 years of tradition.” A Granville native made a remark of a similar sentiment, “… the Golden Horde takes a lance to the heart and falls silent.”
Lifelong Granville resident John “Hector” Norton said, “it’s a sad day for Granville. I’m dead against it.” Norton added, “it will benefit Whitehall more than it will benefit Granville.” He also said it would lead to infighting. Norton said he felt “[the] Granville [football team] should be separate,” and suggested a possible solution would be to encourage more school spirit and athletic participation in the schools.
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Another lifelong Granville resident, Phil Berke, who was on the Granville school board from 2017 to 2020, expressed grave concerns about the Granville-Whitehall football merger as it stands and was approved by the boards.
Berke said he is not opposed to a Granville-Whitehall football merger done like the Cambridge-Salem football merger, where Cambridge became the primary team and its coach the primary coach, and Salem’s coach became the assistant coach. “If coaches say they don’t have enough [players], then they have to [merge] … if they have to, I’m not against that.”
Criticism of the plan has also been dismissed as merely being from nostalgic old-timers who don’t want the rivalry to go away, something Berke and others were displeased with.
Berke made it clear, however, that the plan to combine the Granville-Whitehall football teams as it stands now, is not a merger. “This is a joint venture, a co-partnership,” said Berke.
One plan is to have the Granville and Whitehall coaches be joint coaches of the team. Berke said, “Who is going to be in control? They cannot have joint control, it will never work.”
Last year, when the merger idea first came about, Berke recalled the head football coaches of Granville and Whitehall couldn’t agree on who would coach offense in the combined team. It is an unusual situation in athletics to have two joint head coaches. He noted that the coaching arrangement of the Whitehall varsity softball team, which has two joint coaches, works because the two work together really well.
There is also no formal, defined plan for the co-partnership. When Berke asked about the plan of how the combination of the team will work out, the board’s response was only “[we’re] working out the details.” Berke said, “I don’t know how they’re going to work this out. [It’s crazy for the] board to approve [the co-partnership] with no plan and let the superintendents decide.”
Berke continued, “The superintendents are making all these decisions [and] neither is qualified.” He added that the board should rescind their approval of the co-partnership in its current form.
While the discussion on combining of the Granville and Whitehall football teams started with the athletic directors and coaches, the first the school boards heard of the matter was not from them, but rather their superintendents, Thomas McGurl of Granville and Patrick Dee of Whitehall.
Football is not the only school function of Granville and Whitehall that has been advocated by the superintendents to be combined, whether by merger or co-partnership. The superintendents have also advocated for combining sports, academic programs, and extracurricular programs. “It’s a slippery slope that they’re going into,” said Berke, “It’s a small step to go to a full merger.” Such a merger would be like that proposed between the Fort Edward and South Glens Falls districts. “They’ve gone so far down they’re bound to say (that the school districts should merge). (They’re) out of their area, and they’re in way over their heads.”
“If Granville’s or Whitehall’s schools were closed in favor of the other,” said Berke, “it would be the death knell of either community. I don’t want to see it happen to either, and will do whatever it takes to stop a school merger.”
The combining of the Granville and Whitehall football teams was a necessity due to the numbers in either program. The loss of schools in either Granville or Whitehall would indeed be a travesty, and a “death knell” for either community. It would be wrong to drastically alter or close schools, the educational institutions of both communities. Hopefully, the athletic mergers or co-partnerships do not lead down such a path to school mergers.