Berne-Knox-Westerlo signing on for one year with Schoburg football team

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Joining forces: Ken Meyer, the head coach of the Schoburg varsity football team, which is a merger of the Schoharie and Duanesburg school districts, makes a presentation to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board last month, proposing that BKW merge with the team for the 2014 season. Schoburg, a privately funded team, played its first varsity season last year. BKW approved the merger.

HILLTOWNS — Berne-Knox-Westerlo last had a football team in 1951, and now kids will get another chance to represent their community on the gridiron thanks to the neighboring districts of Schoharie and Duanesburg.

Schoburg, a merger of Schoharie and Duanesburg, played its first season of varsity football last year with a roster of 23. A recent rule change by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association allows for up to three small school districts to merge for football, so Schoburg Head Coach Ken Meyer thought it would be wise to include BKW for next season.

As a privately self-funded team, Schoburg could use as much support as it can get.

“I didn’t want BKW to miss out,” said Meyer, a former president of a now dissolved Helderberg football program; BKW kids played under the program. “Everyone should have the opportunity to play football.”

The six-man football team that BKW fielded up until 1951 was disbanded after a fire in the coach’s office burned all the equipment and sports records.

Brian J. Keller, the new athletic director and dean of students at BKW, said that the school agreed to merge with Schoburg because it won’t cost BKW any extra money; all the cost is self-funded by Schoburg. Keller said that BKW has no planned funding for football.

“We’re exploring the idea for one year, and we’ll see how the experience goes,” said Keller. “You never know what the future holds, but there’s nothing to lose.”

Meyer told The Enterprise that he knows of a few BKW kids who played under his former Helderberg program who would now be interested in suiting up for Schoburg. Overall, Meyer knows of 15 to 20 BKW athletes who would give football a chance.

“I haven’t seen the whites of their eyes yet,” said Meyer. “We still have to set the stone for next season.”

Schoburg played a junior-varsity schedule in 2012, and then petitioned for a varsity team for 2013. Meyer said that, through the Schoburg Booster Club and commercial sponsors like Schenectady Orthopedic, the team raised $9,000 for the 2013 season, which covered all the needs.

“We’re sending flyers around,” Meyer said.

Keller said that BKW has no liability for insurance, travel, officiating fees, helmet reconditioning, or any other costs. Schoburg already has coaches, so BKW will not be adding any extra personnel. At the end of the 2014 season, Keller said he would have a meeting with the athletic directors from Schoharie and Duanesburg.

The merger with Schoburg is important because BKW’s student athletes have “something to gain,” Keller said. “Hopefully, the boost makes the team more competitive. You need numbers in football.”

Schoburg went 2-7 last year in Class D. In 2014, the team will play in the Class C South with Chatham, Cairo-Durham, Fonda-Fultonville, Coxsackie-Athens, and Taconic Hills.

Meyer is excited for BKW to add more friends and family to the special team concept that already exists with Schoburg. In football, 11 players must work together to accomplish one common goal.

“Everyone needs to do their job or there is no success,” said Meyer. “If you bring pride, then there are no issues.”

Football is a high contact sport, and Keller does worry about students getting concussions, but he says that other sports pose the risk for head injuries, too. “Football gets a bad rap, but I’ve seen just as many in soccer or softball,” he said.

BKW, Duanesburg, and Schoharie all have ImPACT (Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), which is a software program that tests cognitive functioning in athletes before a sports season begins. If an athlete suffers a head injury, he must pass his initial assessment before playing again.

“That was a big selling point,” Keller said of the test. “Football players wear helmets, at least.”

So, if the merger goes smoothly, and BKW athletes enjoy playing football, will a team name change be considered? For example, something along the lines of Hilltowns or Helderberg?

Meyer and Keller both agreed that it’s way too early to answer such a question; Schoburg (www.schoburg.org) is trying just to recruit more players.

Keller did say that he thought about the name, but he’s not about to make any suggestions.

“We don’t want to jump the gun,” Meyer added. “It’s just a name. The kids’ hearts matter more.”

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