Pending formal approval by school boards, the football programs at Sundance and Upton will combine for the 2012 season and may also work together in 2013.
Under the tentative agreement reached this month by the schools, the football teams will combine for 2012 and could also combine for 2013, numerous sources said on Tuesday.
The plan is still pending formal approval from the Sundance school board, Sundance activities director Jim O’Connor said.
Upton football coach Andy Garland said the Upton school board approved the co-op.
Upton will be the “host” school for combination purposes. Other details of the agreement — including locations of practices and games, uniforms, coaching and homecoming arrangements — are still being worked out.
“From our perspective, because of our limited numbers and … the chances of us finishing a season were not very good, it’s been positive, and I think the kids at both schools are pretty positive about it,” O’Connor said.
Sundance coach Brian Mills said only about 13 players were set to come out for the Sundance squad this fall; Garland said he anticipated Upton on its own would have only had about 14.
The Upton-Sundance combo squad could be ineligible for the Class 1A 11-man playoffs, Wyoming High School Activities Association Associate Commissioner Trevor Wilson said, depending on the final enrollment tallies for the two schools. Wilson said the classification of the school depends on the enrollment numbers provided by the schools to the Wyoming Department of Education. O’Connor said the schools may also be able to submit enrollments from the first day of school in the fall.
The final enrollment number will be a combination of average daily membership, or ADM, of the “host” school, Upton, and the male enrollment of Sundance.
Wilson said if the program’s combined enrollment figure is higher than that of the smallest Class 2A school, Big Horn at 138, then the program would be ineligible for postseason play in both 2012 and 2013.
For Sundance and Upton, it’ll be close.
“If our current number of boys all stay and we don’t add anybody, then we’re going to be (at) like 141” combined, O’Connor said. “… It’s going to be tight one way or the other.”
The possibility of missing a chance at the postseason is one of the reasons people in both communities have hesitated at combining, Garland said.
In addition to a possible postseason lockout, several other elements have prompted people in both communities to question the agreement.
For example, who will be the head coach? How will practices be organized? Where will home games be played? What uniforms will the teams wear? How will homecoming be worked out?
And, maybe most important, who will pay for practice and game travel, coach salaries or any other incidentals tied to the program?
“A lot of that needs to be worked out,” Garland said. “We’re not even sure what we’re going to do for uniforms yet. … It’ll be a busy summer.”
The agreement, of course, still rests on the approval of the school boards involved.
The case against six-man
The schools cannot move to six-man football at the midpoint of a reclassification cycle; with the WHSAA’s recent decision to extend the reclassification cycle for one year, the soonest either Sundance or Upton could drop to six-man would be 2014.
But both Mills and Garland said they don’t want to go that route.
“We won’t go six,” Mills said. ” … Our numbers in our lower grades are fine.”
Added Garland, “I’ve just been battling to stay 11-man as long as possible. We’ve battled numbers every year for the last three to four years.”
Garland also said the Upton community echoed a similar sentiment of wanting to stay in 11-man.
Both teams are in the Class 1A-11 man East Conference. The combination agreement leave six active programs in the conference for 2012 — Lusk, Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Normative Services, Lingle and the Upton-Sundance co-op.
Sundance fought its way through a triangular playoff coin flip to make the playoff bracket last year, finishing 4-7. Upton went 1-7 last season, with its only victory coming against Normative Services.
Last season, Tongue River, a Class 2A school, failed to field a team. About a dozen players from Tongue River suited up for Big Horn last fall.