By THOMAS LUCKIE III
OGDENSBURG – The Ogdensburg City School District Board of Education voted to make some key changes to policy regarding sports merger requests from other school districts at a meeting on Wednesday, July 5.
Although the board revised and approved the policy over a series of meetings last fall, Board Vice President Michael Myers expressed concerns over Athletic Director Anthony Bjork’s interpretation of the policy, specifically his handling of a potential varsity football merger request from Morristown Central School District Superintendent and Athletic Director Douglas McQueer.
Considering a merger request from Heuvelton Central School District for varsity football was recently approved by the board, Myers and other board members pointed out contradictory language in the policy that stated “If a merger, in a particular sport, is requested by more than one school it shall be the practice of the district that all school’s requests will be honored. If the number of athletes from the school exceeds an acceptable limit, all requests will be denied.”
Bjork previously addressed the board at a meeting on Monday, June 19 and explained that he told McQueer in conversation that a merger in varsity football would change Ogdensburg Free Academy’s classification from a Class C to a Class B.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) regulates athletic classifications based on State Education Department Basic Education Data System (BEDS) Enrollment Numbers. Classification numbers provided by the NYSPHSAA for the 2017-18 school year indicate that OFA will have a classification number of 338, while Heuvelton Central will have a number 115 and Morristown Central will have a number of 63. For the 2016-17 season, Class C football teams were capped at a maximum classification number of 364 before being moved up to Class B. When schools participate in sports mergers, the larger school adds at least 20 percent of the smaller school(s) classification number and is reclassified accordingly based on the new combined number.
Based on last year’s criteria, a merger with Heuvelton only would therefore keep OFA just within the limits of Class C, where the Blue Devils became the first football team in the history of Section X to appear in a state championship game last season.
“When I talked to Mr. McQueer at the A.D.’s meeting, he fully understood that it was gonna move us up a class, so therefore him and I just decided it wasn’t good for our program. That’s why the merger request never came in front of the board, it did not have the support of me or our head coach,” Bjork said, referring to varsity football coach Matthew Tessmer.
When asked by Board President Ronald Johnson if Morristown Central ever submitted a formal merger request for varsity, Bjork confirmed that they did not.
“My opinion is that Morristown didn’t apply because you told them not to bother,” Myers then said.
Bjork then pointed out that a primary criteria in the merger policy states that a request must have the support of the athletic director and head coach before being forwarded by the administration, which the informal inquiry by Morristown for varsity football did not have.
“It was not an intentional violation of this policy, it was my interpretation,” Bjork said.
“I understand it wasn’t intentional, it was a violation though,” Myers said.
Myers then stated that he and the board should be kept aware of how many schools are requesting sports mergers rather than how many spoke to Bjork about the possibility of a merger.
“I want to know, like this says, how many schools put in requests, not called and you said ‘don’t bother because we’re going to deny it,’ that doesn’t sit well with me at all,” Myers said.
Board member Craig Lalonde then suggested changing language in one section of the policy to give the board “the right to deny or accept a request for a sports merger” and board member Michael Tooley eventually made a motion to make the change that passed unanimously.
A motion to remove the language requiring the district to accept or deny merger requests from all requesting schools for a particular sport was made by board member Lawrence Mitchell and carried with a 5-4 vote.
The board also approved a merger request from Heuvelton Central for varsity volleyball with a 6-3 vote after Heuvelton submitted proper paperwork indicating that one student would potentially join the team for the fall season.