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Merger panel looks at combined sports for Canton and Potsdam schools


CANTON — Combining sports teams at Canton and Potsdam school districts could prove to be the most controversial aspect of a proposal to merge the two neighboring school districts.

Members of the 28-member joint advisory merger committee reviewed data Monday evening regarding how a combined school district would impact athletics and extracurricular activities. The panel also reviewed data collected about each district’s building facilities.

Consultants hired to conduct the merger study said although fewer students would be able to play popular sports such as soccer, basketball and ice hockey, a larger school could create more competitive teams and encourage some students to try a different sport or activity.

“I’ve seen kids who didn’t make soccer, but excelled at cross-country,” said Douglas B. Hamlin of Western New York Educational Council, Buffalo.

A larger district would also help provide more athletes for football and other sports that require large numbers.

According to his data, both Potsdam and Canton now offer more varsity sports than 20 years ago even though student enrollment has decreased significantly at each district.

In 1992-93, Potsdam offered 19 varsity sports and had 1,837 students. This year the district has 22 varsity sports and an enrollment of 1,335.

Canton now offers 20 varsity sports compared to 19 in 1992-93. Since then, student enrollment has dropped from 2,058 to 1,334.

“The capacity to maintain that level and remain competitive is somewhat stressed and becoming more difficult to afford. This is a perspective to keep in mind,” Mr. Hamlin said.

Potsdam High School Principal Joann Chambers said students have become accustomed to making any varsity team they try out for and it wasn’t always this way.

“It’s become an expectation,” she said. “There would have to be a culture shift with the kids.”

In regards to extracurricular activities, the consultants found that some clubs are inactive or under utilized because they lack student participation or face budget constraints.

A merged district would provide a larger critical mass of students, allowing the chance to maintain traditional activities and possibly create new ones, the consultants said.

In regard to facilities, the consultants said it would not be necessary to build a brand new school building because enough space exists to house students in a merged district.

After reviewing four options, the majority of committee members favored the one that allowed each district to keep their own elementary school for grades pre-kindergarten through grade 4. That option would also involve combining Canton and Potsdam into one middle school for grades 5 to 8. The combined high school would house grades 9 to 12. One community would have the middle school while the other would have the high school.

The next joint advisory committee meeting is scheduled for March 12 at Potsdam Central. Employee contracts and staffing will be discussed at that session.

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