School Committee gives Greenfield go-ahead to pursue football co-op

  • Greenfield High School Athletic Director Michael Kuchieski and Principal Karin Patenaude discuss the school’s prospective football cooperative program during Monday’s Greenfield School Committee meeting at the John Zon Community Center. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield High School Athletic Director Michael Kuchieski and Principal Karin Patenaude discuss the school’s prospective football cooperative program during Monday’s Greenfield School Committee meeting at the John Zon Community Center. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2020 10:52:08 PM

GREENFIELD — Franklin County’s cooperative football wheels are once again in motion.

Thanks to a unanimous vote of the Greenfield School Committee at Monday night’s meeting at the John Zon Community Center, Greenfield High School is now free to pursue a football co-op that could potentially include Turners Falls High School, Mohawk Trail Regional School and Pioneer Valley Regional School.

Greenfield Athletic Director Mike Kuchieski and Greenfield High School Principal Karin Patenaude sat before the School Committee to open Monday’s meeting, and the board voted unanimously to approve Greenfield High School as the host school for a potential football co-op that would begin play for the 2020-2021 school year.

Greenfield now needs approval from the other prospective schools before taking their co-op before the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference (PVIAC) and Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA). The new co-op would need to pass a vote of athletic directors in the PVIAC, and would also need approval by the MIAA’s Eligibility Review Board (ERB) to compete as a program beginning this fall.

Greenfield would serve as the host school for the co-op, and the new program expects to compete in the Intercounty League North Division under the Green Wave banner. School Committee Vice Chair Susan Eckstrom asked Kuchieski about the team’s potential opponents during Monday’s meeting, and the athletic director, who is also the head football coach at Greenfield High School, confirmed that the plan is to remain in the IL North.

“We’re coming up on a realignment year so it’d only be for one year, then we’d realign (leagues),” Kuchieski said, referring to the fact that the PVIAC’s four-year realignment cycle ends after the 2020 to 2021 school year.

This fall would mark the third year in a row that cooperative programs would shift in Franklin County. Two years ago, Pioneer and Turners Falls played under the Turners Falls moniker, and last year, Turners Falls and Mohawk Trail joined together to play under the Mohawk Trail banner. That came after Turners assessed in August that it would not have enough players to field its own team. The co-op was granted a one-year immediate hardship waiver, and competed in the Tri-County League where it  posted a 5-5 record in 2019.

Fast forward to the present, and Kuchieski informed the School Committee on Monday night that Turners Falls had agreed to join Greenfield’s co-op. He was still waiting on official word from Mohawk Trail and Pioneer.

Turners Falls Athletic Director Adam Graves said Monday night that joining this potential new cooperative presented his student-athletes with the best situation to play football for the upcoming season.

“We wanted to give our kids an opportunity to be able to play football and combining with Greenfield at this point is our best option,” explained Graves, who said the program received approval from the school’s administration to join forces with Greenfield. “We held our introductory meeting and knew we wouldn’t have enough players to try and have our own team again next year. We had to see if someone would invite us to a co-op and Greenfield did.”

During Monday’s meeting, Greenfield Superintendent Jordana Harper expressed her support for the potential co-op. Harper said she is supportive if Greenfield remains the host school, and is looking forward to engaging in the collaborative process with other schools involved. She also said that the venture would be a way to help share resources with communities dealing with declining enrollments, something that is at the heart of the issue involving high school athletics throughout Franklin County.

Graves said that joining up with Greenfield as the host school made the most sense geographically. Last year’s co-op with Mohawk Trail was a positive experience, but the travel associated with practices in Buckland every day took its toll on Turners Falls’ students.

“For us, the biggest thing with this move is transportation,” he offered. “We were treated great by Mohawk. Everything was great. But asking kids to travel 35 minutes each way every day, that’s asking a lot. They did it last year and we made it work. But 35 minutes versus five minutes down the road to Greenfield, it makes sense.”

Kuchieski said that the cooperative would likely move forward with votes at the PVIAC level as soon as early February. Unlike last year’s Turners Falls-Mohawk Trail co-op, which was on a hardship waiver, this would operate under the normal guidelines much like the Greenfield hockey cooperative that includes Turners Falls, Franklin Tech, Frontier, Mahar, Athol and Pioneer. Graves said the extra time should make matters much easier, especially compared to last year’s emergency situation.

“We have to do it the right way,” he said. “Last year we were saved by the grace of ADs to pass it last minute. This year, we’ll have time to get everything in line, get schedules done, etc. And the kids will have time and a chance to come together and figure out how things are going to be tackled. That’s the difference between having seven months to prepare instead of just a couple of weeks.”

As for the other schools potentially involved, there had been no formal commitment from either Mohawk Trail or Pioneer as of Monday’s meeting. Mohawk Trail Athletic Director Greg Vouros said his school is still exploring football options for 2020, and no decision has been made in regard to joining the Greenfield co-op.

“We’ve started the planning process for our fall sports season,” began Vouros on Monday night. “Looking at numbers, we’ll once again consider our co-op options for next year. However, we are only in the preliminary stages of this planning. It’s premature at this point to comment on what our situation will be next year, but we’re hopeful for the options to consider.”

Pioneer Athletic Director Ernest Abramian said Monday that while there’s no official word from his school yet on whether it will be a part of the co-op, he is working on that becoming a reality. The school did not join the Mohawk Trail-Turners Falls co-op last year, and hasn’t had its own football team since 2017.

“As of now, we just don’t have the numbers yet,” Abramian said. “But we’d very much like to get into the co-op. I’m working on getting the numbers as best as I can, contacting parents to see what we’re working with here.”




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