In a 4-1 vote, the Alaska School Activities Association approved the Juneau School District’s request to consolidate their two high school football programs.
JSD Superintendent Mark Miller confirmed the news to the Empire in a phone interview Thursday.
“The vote of the five regions was 4-1 to allow us to combine, and I think it’s the right call,” Miller said.
The only region that voted against the proposal was Region V — the Southeast region. The Region V vote was cast by Andrew Friske, the region’s ASAA representative. ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland said the Friday teleconference vote with five of the six regional representatives needed to be done this week.
ASAA’s classification committee — a committee that makes decisions about how activities are classified — meets later this month. The merging of the Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain High School football teams means one more Division I (large schools) school in the state. North Pole High School is another school that moved up from Division II to Division I.
(ASAA supports three classifications in football: Division I, Division II and Division III. The rebranding of the classifications away “small,” “medium” and “large schools” to the new names was intended to provide less of a negative connotation to the divisions.)
In addition, Strickland said football scheduling requires “statewide effort” and it’s started not long after the end of the season.
The district announced Oct. 19 of their decision to go forward with the request to ASAA. Less than two weeks later, on Oct. 30, JSD Director of Student Services Bridget Weiss sent ASAA the formal letter of request.
In the letter, Weiss requested Thunder Mountain High School students be given the option to play football at Juneau-Douglas High School next season. The TMHS program would be discontinued.
“Safety of our players given low participation numbers is one of our primary concerns with football,” Weiss says in the letter. “In addition, the fiscal reality of supporting two high school football teams in Juneau is seeming to be a significant stumbling block.”
The TMHS football team is $118,000 in debt and the JDHS football is $33,000 in debt, the letter states.
Weiss’ letter also asked ASAA to continue the admittance of cooperative tennis and wrestling teams in Juneau. JDHS wrestling now functions as TMHS wrestling, and TMHS students have the option to play tennis at JDHS (TMHS never started a tennis team).
The district was granted a one-year cooperative waiver for these two sports for the 2016-17 school year.
Strickland noted that it’s more like ASAA to allow cooperative status for team sports rather than individual sports. But he also understood that it would provide a testing of the waters period
“We felt at the time it was going on it was letting Juneau test the waters if you will to do cooperative activities in terms of kids in different buildings,” Strickland said. “We’ve been kinda anticipating this ask from Juneau for a while. But I think that goes to show it’s been a tough decision and the district put a lot of time and thinking into what would be best.”
Neither Kevin Hamrick, the JDHS head coach, nor Randy Quinto, the TMHS head coach, have been officially hired to coach the new team.
Quinto said he knew a consolidation was in store for the offseason — but thought there would be more time before a final decision would be reached.
“As far as the merging, I think it’s a good thing,” Quinto said. “Obviously being on the other side of where it’s been proposed to be housed, that’s a sore point for sure.”
Beginning with his first season as head coach three years ago, Quinto strived to change the culture surrounding the TMHS program. Once the underdog in the Southeast Conference, in the last two seasons the Falcons became the top dog. Meanwhile, JDHS began losing more games and players. Now, all Falcon pride must be conceded, or at least diverted.
“I bleed black-and-red — I went to JD,” Quinto said. “It’s just I coach for the blue. There are just two different programs at this point.”
Meanwhile, Hamrick said he and his team are in good spirits, that is, except his seniors on the team this season.
“Most of my seniors were saying, ‘Why not last year?’ Why didn’t they do it last year?’” Hamrick said. “Because they knew what we could be like if we had been all together again. … I’m just glad that we’re finally coming back together.”