WESTFIELD – The year is 2031.
E-sports is flourishing at high schools all throughout the country. Babe Ruth Baseball leagues toil in obscurity as cash-strapped cities and towns balk at providing host venues. Volunteerism continues to hit an all-time low. The Westfield High School football team is a relic, having folded after failing to field a full squad.
This may seem a tad bit outlandish, but with participation numbers in sports at the youth level slowly declining, the current system in place appears to be undercutting one team’s ability to field a traditional squad. More importantly, when it comes to football, some may agree that the rules and bylaws set forth by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Conference are jeopardizing the program’s longevity and hampering the student-athletes involved.
At the current rate, the Westfield Bombers may not be able to field a Junior Varsity team this fall, something unthinkable decades ago.
Although Westfield has been producing several championship-caliber teams at the youth level, those same Junior Bombers are forced to make a critical life choice when they reach high-school age – – attend Westfield High or Westfield Technical Academy.
“I have a son who is entering seventh grade and is a very dedicated football player,” Westfield resident Vanessa Golec stated in an e-mail to The Westfield News. Golec’s son has played youth football in the city for the last six seasons.
“For years,” she said, “we have discussed him attending the Technical Academy School here in Westfield but without having the option to play football, he does not want to attend. My son would flourish at the Technical Academy over the high school and because of not being allowed to play football, he would be forced to choose a path that isn’t right for him.”
The Golec family is one of several families that sent e-mail letters to The Westfield News in a plea for the Westfield High and Westfield Technical Academy high schools to entertain a co-operative program, ensuring Bombers football’s existence for years to come.
“These players who made it to a national championship level together should be able to stay together,” said Jennifer Tessier Williford said, whose son just opted to attend Westfield Technical Academy over playing high school football.
“(He) built his self-esteem, increased his grades, and physical fitness,” she went on to say. “He then had a choice to make, football or the application to the Vocational school where we knew he would do best and get an education that would push him toward his long-term goals. When he was accepted to the school we were overjoyed, and then saddened. He was saying goodbye to his team, his mentors in the coaches who are moving up into the high school.”
Jovanny Courchesne, a former Junior Bomber, has agonized over whether to attend Westfield Tech or play football for Westfield High. He has been playing since the third grade.
“My love for the sport made it very hard to choose and put some stress on me,” Courchesne said. “I would love to play football while going to the vocational school. I think the vocational school is great for my future but I love the sport and the sport has shaped me to who I am today and it’s very hard to let go of it. I’ve put so much time and effort into the game. …To play football while going to the vocational school would honestly make me very happy and play with my friends again.”
There are several partnerships between area schools already in place.
Co-ops currently exist between Westfield and Westfield Tech high schools for wrestling and skiing. St. Mary’s has partnered up with Westfield Tech for lacrosse. Southwick has a co-op program with Westfield Tech for track and field and boys ice hockey. Westfield female student-athletes, along with others from all over Western Mass., play girls ice hockey for Longmeadow.
Although at face value it appears like a no-brainer for Westfield High School to enter into a co-op with Westfield Tech for football, the rules of the state’s governing body, the MIAA, currently prohibits that from happening.
The MIAA bylaw states that the host team must have 30-or-less football players in order to enter into a co-operative program with another school. Also, that proposal must be submitted to the district’s athletic chairperson at least six months prior to the sport’s first practice for that respective season. The co-op program is exclusive to varsity only. Junior Varsity teams are not considered when applying for a co-op collective.
So, at this point it is a moot point.
Westfield Superintendent of Public Schools Stefan Czaporowski said as a former principal of Westfield Tech and now the city’s public schools superintendent he has continuously fought to increase athletics at the school, but acknowledges that a trade is vital for many students entering high school and that the trade school should not be poached for athletes just to satisfy another school low on numbers for football. He also noted that declining school enrollment numbers projected for the foreseeable future is exacerbating this issue.
“We are by no means trying to deny opportunities,” said Czaporowski. “We need to follow the rules.”
Westfield High School football coach Rob Parent said he does not want to coerce student-athletes at Westfield Tech to attend WHS to play football but believes those players who have already devoted several years to playing at the youth level should be given that opportunity to play for the Bombers.
“I think there needs to a reshaping of the (MIAA bylaws),” Parent said. “Thirty students is barely enough to outfit a varsity team. There needs to be different rules in place to have action take place.”
Parent has been pushing for a co-op team for four years, and even went as far as to say that if someone in Southwick wanted to play for Central, that student-athlete should be allowed to do so.
“Putting obstacles in (a student-athlete’s) way is mind blowing,” Parent said. “At some point it is right to challenge the rule. I think we are at this point. The point is to allow the kids to play.”