CUBA — Cuba-Rushford school superintendent Carlos Gildemeister sought to bring some clarity to the ongoing merging process between his district and Portville’s football programs toward the end of Tuesday’s district board of education meeting.
The merger application process, which will see C-R send its football-playing students to Portville in the fall, came together over the course of only a few days last week, ultimately approved by both school boards before applying to Section 6.
Both C-R and Portville’s boards approved the merger at Feb. 7 meetings. The following day, a notice on the CRCS website offered some clarity on the new team, but some parents felt their questions have not been adequately addressed since, indicated by 101 signatures (as of Tuesday afternoon) to a change.org petition asking the board to re-vote on the merger and hold town hall forums for parents.
According to the initial notice, the school combined teams with Portville to prioritize “safety by allowing students to compete within their age bracket,” as C-R did not previously have a junior varsity team and will be able to add one with Portville this fall. The release also stated that “by allowing a bigger pool for football, it will not take away numbers from our soccer program.”
The new team will be called the Portville/Cuba-Rushford Panthers, wearing PCS uniforms, holding varsity practice in Portville and playing most varsity games in Portville, with the exception of a Senior Night/Homecoming game in Cuba.
MESSAGE TO DISTRICTGildemeister read a prepared letter — now available on the district website — to the C-R community addressing concerns that had spread over social media.
“Being a firm believer in our motto, ‘Every Student Every Day,’ Cuba-Rushford had the opportunity to merge football programs with Portville to ensure that 11-man football continues on three levels for the considerable future,” Gildemeister said. “I find that news both reassuring and exciting for our student-athletes. Cuba-Rushford has struggled over the last four years to maintain the numbers needed to compete at the varsity level in Section 5. New York state requires 16 eligible players to have a contest.
“As our numbers have decreased, we have relied more and more on ninth- and 10th-graders to have considerable playing time. Although that has prevented us from ever forfeiting a game, it does put our players at risk for injury in an already physical sport. I know we have a lot of logistics to work through, but this model ensures the program’s sustainability, allowing our future generation of athletes the opportunity to one day represent C-R at the varsity level.”
Gildemeister said C-R had engaged with other Section 5 programs regarding mergers, “but they were reluctant to commit to the partnership and busing continued to be an obstacle.”
He continued, “When Portville approached us about a possible merger, we were restricted to a timetable set by Section VI. Missing that timeline would have resulted in a missed opportunity, now and in the future. Logistically, schools who merge programs must consider the student enrollment of both schools to determine classification and competition.
“Through this merger, we will compete as a Class C school. We have been working for over a year to secure a partnership that honors the rich history of Cuba-Rushford football. Merging Cuba-Rushford and Portville football programs ensures that athletes continue to have the opportunity to play football within reasonable distances.”
Gildemeister announced that while most varsity home games will be in Portville, JV and modified home games will be an even split. The cheerleading team will also be merged, but only for fall football, not the winter. Regarding the team identity, the squad will go by Panthers, but Gildemeister hopes to revisit the name the next time uniforms are in need of purchasing.
“To maintain the current budget, we will be wearing Portville’s current uniforms and mascot,” he said. “We will not let a name be a roadblock for what is best for our students. We will revisit the team name of Portville Cuba-Rushford Panthers during the next purchasing rotation of uniforms. Our athletes will be recognized as Cuba-Rushford players, but will play under the Panthers banner.”
PARENT’S CONCERNThe change.org petition’s creator, Ashley Hunt, spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting and had an extensive, observably cordial conversation with Gildemeister following the meeting.
“My initial concern regarding this decision was the lack of information that was given to the community,” Hunt said. “It felt like it was intentionally withheld, especially since the agenda for that meeting was never posted. I was also unclear as to why a decision of this magnitude was relayed to our children at school the following morning and not to the parents and to the public.
“If the merger had been in discussions for over a year, why is there no mention of it in any of the available board minutes going back to July 2022. I’ve spoken to Portville parents and the same secretive vote was held and the students were made aware of the decision the following day.”
However, Hunt stated that if parents can be involved in the merger process, she would be on board.
“I want it to be made known (that) I am not opposed to the merger, I’m opposed to the way that it came about,” she said, “and that there’s no information and it just seems like a month later we’re supposed to just accept without anything being given back to us. That’s all we’re asking for.”
Speaking with the Times Herald after the meeting, assistant principal and former head football coach Chris Fee said he anticipates both schools being able to keep an identity in the new program.
“Other mergers in the area, schools did keep their own identity, Franklinville/Ellicottville being the most successful one, but a lot of mergers, both schools have been proud of the products,” he said.
“I think when you read it online, the one home game for Cuba-Rushford, our games will be played for varsity at Portville, and then sticking with their uniforms, those are the easy ones but it doesn’t give you all the logistics.”
CUBA-RUSHFORD IDENTITYGildemeister told the the OTH he felt being able to keep Cuba-Rushford in the team name, as Portville/Cuba-Rushford, was a “game-changer.” He mentioned honoring C-R students at the C-R sports banquets as another way of preserving the school’s football identity.
“We really want to maintain our identity and I think that as we look into the future, the helmets are reconditioned every year, but we were sort of a little late this time,” he said. “But next year it could be all white or all maroon. We’re trying. But if we just decided that we’re going to do it now, you’re looking at dollars, dollars that have already spent to be reconditioned to be re-reconditioned doesn’t make sense to the taxpayer.”
Gildemeister indicated he felt he answered as many questions initially as he could after the merger decision.
“There’s a lot of details that we don’t know, a lot,” he said. “We still have meetings scheduled. We want to bring parents at some point. We still want to make sure that our schedules and their bus transportation and their ability to transport, all that, meshes. Once we have the main structure, we want to bring parents in from both communities and be able to have them ask us questions that perhaps we haven’t thought of.”