NEW BUFFALO — The possible combining of the New Buffalo and River Valley high school football programs was discussed during the Feb. 8 New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education meeting.

Board member Heather Black said she thinks it’s important to have a discussion with players and the parents on the proposal, noting that “we did this two years ago with Bridgman.”

Board president Chuck Heit said he thinks it is especially important to hear from the players from both schools, and some sort of a meeting with them (and possibly parents as well) to get input before a decision is made is in the works.

Board member Lisa Werner asked how this co-op team would be different than earlier effort.

Heit said the New Buffalo-River Valley team would have one head coach (as opposed to two co-coaches with the Bridgman co-op squad) and there’s been talk of a three-year commitment.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Leslie said the River Valley School Board next meets on Feb. 22 (the same night at New Buffalo), although Heit said a decision does not have to be made that evening.

Leslie said he thought the New Buffalo-Bridgman co-op season went well in many ways, although the co-head coaches and New Buffalo students getting out of school later than those in Bridgman were problems.

A major factor in considering a co-op team involves being able to field a junior varsity team and avoid having freshmen lining up against seniors on the field.

Leslie said the Bison started last year’s season with 15 players on its eight-man roster, but finished with nine. He later noted that River Valley hasn’t played varsity football since early in the 2020 campaign.

“I think it’s going to grow our numbers, I think it’s going to be safer for those younger kids,” he said.

New Buffalo has had cooperative tennis teams with Bridgman for several seasons and is set to team up with River Valley this winter for wrestling.

“I’d rather have a co-op than have nothing at all,” Leslie said.

Matt Johnson, New Buffalo’s athletic director and head football coach, said as much as he looks forward to making the playoffs, he said being able to field teams that consistently win holds even more appeal.

Heit said he hopes to see an eight-man football playoff division established for larger districts such as Bridgman, New Buffalo’s possible co-op with River Valley, and the new LMC-Michigan Lutheran-Countryside squad.

Board member Trish Newton said the biggest issue for her is a 14-year-old going up against an 18-year-old in a game instead of playing at the appropriate level.

Earlier in the meeting Leslie reported that the first basketball games of the winter season are scheduled for this week (the girls team opening at Michigan Lutheran on Feb. 11 and the boys playing art home the next evening), noting that players will get two tickets for spectators, those attending are expected to wear masks and social distance in the stands.

He said the gym will be cleared and cleaned between games if there is more than one contest.

“It’s just going to be different from what we’re used to in the past.”

High school contact winter sports competition in basketball, wrestling, hockey and competitive cheer had been on hold until Feb. 21 – but that changed on Feb. 4 when the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) made the following announcement:

Per an announcement today by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools may begin full practice activities in the winter contact sports of girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling on Monday, Feb. 8, with some precautions to continue limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Competition in those four sports also will begin next week, with basketball and hockey able to play Feb. 8 and cheer and wrestling able to compete starting Feb. 12.

Those four Winter contact sports have been able to practice since Jan. 16, but only with non-contact activities. MHSAA Tournament dates for all four sports previously were rescheduled into late March and early April to accommodate a later start to the regular season. All four Winter contact sports also must participate with some level of masking and/or rapid testing. All testing will be coordinated between schools and MDHHS or their local health departments.

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