Football merger called off by Whitehall

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The Granville and Whitehall football helmets. Photo courtesy of NYVTmedia staff files.

Granville superintendent Tom McGurl

Granville school superintendent Tom McGurl announced at the May 10 Board of Education meeting that the Granville-Whitehall football merger expected this fall won’t happen.

“Whitehall, if they were merging, they wanted to make sure it was because they didn’t have enough players,” McGurl said. “They (Whitehall) have done a count of their players and they feel they have enough players to run a JV program at this time for next year. And their idea is they would graduate the JV program into a varsity program over time. So, that is the direction they’re going to go, we will not be merging with Whitehall for football next year.”

McGurl noted that the mergers for cross-country and boys soccer with Whitehall are still in effect for the 2021-2022 fall sports season.

Whitehall superintendent Pat Dee responded to NYVT Media on May 12 with an update on how the Railroaders’ decision came to be.

“The Whitehall football coaches and athletic director have been engaged in ongoing conversations regarding the Whitehall football program.” Dee said. “Mr. (Keith) Redmond, our AD, has been meeting with students at all Jr./Sr. high grade levels to assess the ages of the potential number of players that we will have participating for the 2021-2022 season.

“As a result of these ongoing discussions, our coaching staff and AD feel that we have sufficient player interest to run a quality JV program that will enable our coaching staff to develop these players safely and with the ability to grow into an independent Whitehall varsity program for 2022-2023.

“We certainly appreciate the opportunity to participate with Granville, and will continue to be merged for cross-country and (boy’s) soccer for the 2021-2022 school year.”

Dee mentioned Whitehall has invited the Granville cheerleading team to participate with Whitehall’s team at the Railroader JV games, and potentially at Granville varsity games this fall.

One Whitehall football player, Brandon Bakerian, will now have two football seasons ripped away from him. Both out of his control.

Photo by Jennifer Prindle Dickenson. Brandon Bakerian playing quarterback for Whitehall.

“It’s just unfortunate that there was no communication, and now, the kids are going to feel left out,” Bakerian’s father, Jason Roberts, said.

“They (Whitehall senior and junior football players) didn’t even get to have football in his (Brandon’s) junior year. COVID took his junior year away,” Bakerian’s mother, Nicole Roberts chimed in.

Bakerian, quarterback and linebacker for the Railroaders since his freshman year, is forced to put his focus on baseball in the meantime.

“I was pretty upset because I’m going to be a senior, no varsity program, just JV? That’s pretty upsetting,” Bakerian said.

Photo by Nicole Roberts. Brandon Bakerian in sixth grade playing for Granville.

A similar issue occurred when Bakerian was in sixth grade, being forced to join Granville’s football program due to Whitehall not being able to field a team. That connection established friendships between Bakerian and Granville football players who were all excited to team together this fall as a merged, well-oiled machine.

But now, that’s off the table.

John Irion, head coach of the Horde football team, said he was ready for both outcomes.

“I was, and actually still am, in favor of the merger,” he said. “At the same time we are prepared to continue on without them. As far as I know, nobody from Granville was involved in their decision.”

Irion was asked, with the merger being called off, how does this affect Granville’s football program, which leans on the lower side of depth and roster size.

“In my opinion, in the short term we will survive. Long term I think there will be problems for both schools with student numbers. Having just enough to field a team does not make a solid program and that, or not having enough may be the direction small schools may face,” Irion said.

However, Irion thought of two possible remedies to the issue at hand for both programs.

“Viable solutions are for programs to merge to create stable and competitive teams, or to go to seven or eight-man football, which I wouldn’t be in favor of,” Irion said.

Granville athletic director Justin Nassivera said he, Irion and the other Granville football coaches were pumped for the merger with Whitehall.

“I have had contact with my coaching staff, they were very excited for the merger. We felt that as a combined program, we would have instant success. However, good for Whitehall that they have been able to find the numbers to field a program,” Nassivera said. “Hopefully down the road we can have the opportunity to revisit this conversation. I do know our coaching staff has already started our offseason weight room program and is doing some heavy recruiting at this time.”

In addition, it was announced Fort Ann’s wrestlers will be leaving Whitehall to join the Granville wrestling program.

The Fort Ann merger will bring added numbers to each weight class and Fort Ann will provide transportation for those student-athletes. The program will remain “Granville wrestling” but there may be a possibility of having one home match at Fort Ann for those senior wrestlers and families.

McGurl said he looks forward to the possibility of continuing the famous Granville-Whitehall football games.

“I do wish them all the best and I hope that if they do have a varsity program in the future, that we have the opportunity to play them,” McGurl said.

Redmond and Whitehall football head coach Richard Gould couldn’t be reached for a comment by press time.