By Elaine Springer
As the football season arrives for the Tri-Town Titans, the merged football team consisting of players from Trumansburg, South Seneca, and Romulus, the Trumansburg youth football coaches have their sights set on a Trumansburg modified team returning in 2019, with a varsity team to follow in 2020.
After canceling the 2014 season due to low numbers, the Trumansburg school board voted unanimously in December 2014 to merge with South Seneca for the 2015 season, also joining Romulus, which had been merged with South Seneca for roughly a decade prior. After the 2015 season the original merger contract was extended, and in the 2016 season the team adopted the name Tri-Town Titans, complete with a new logo that combined the school’s colors.
The 2015 merger was met with a mix of support from players and families who simply wanted the opportunity to play ball, and disappointment from players and families passionate about Trumansburg football, many of whom remember the glory years when the football program thrived. There were also those concerned about the added pressure of traveling to practices and games that were further away, a valid concern which forced several players and families not to continue with the football program.
Many forces combine to cause program mergers. Perhaps most notable are the increased concerns over the safety of the sport, from contusions and concussions to broken bones and other injuries that can cause lifelong problems. In Trumansburg, the merger was due to a lack of interest in the modified and varsity level, combined with decreasing student enrollment. The high school alone has seen a 25 percent decline in student enrollment in nearly 10 years. “Nearly every school in our IAC region has struggled to maintain a football team. Most of the schools are now going to the eight-man football system because they are all unable to consistently meet the demand for the 16-man minimum roster. The issue is not a Trumansburg problem, it is an image issue for football and unfortunately, fewer kids want to play,” says high school principal Jon Keong.
Interest in football has not declined at the youth level, however, which is made up of a junior team with fourth and fifth graders, and a senior team which is made up of sixth and seventh graders. The youth program has gained momentum, particularly since the 2015 season, with both the junior and senior youth teams averaging roughly 30 players per team per year. The momentum to get that many kids on the field is due largely to three alumni of the Trumansburg football program heyday; coaches Jerry Wright, Jim Landon, and director Mike Brainard, who have spearheaded the growth of the youth program and communication with the school to bring modified and varsity programs back to Trumansburg.
Should the modified program return in 2019, it is possible that coaches Wright and Landon will move from the youth to the modified level. In addition to being community leaders working in law enforcement, coaches Wright and Landon bring a vast experience in coaching in Trumansburg and beyond. Coach Wright has coached baseball for five years and is returning to coaching football this year for his fifth year. Coach Landon began his coaching career in high school, coaching the flag football team and continued through college, where he minored in coaching. After college Landon served as head modified coach and assistant varsity coach at Odessa Montour. He eagerly joined Coach Wright at the Trumansburg youth level in 2014.
The passion for Trumansburg football that the coaches have, and especially the future of the players they have mentored over the years is palpable, but who coaches the team ultimately will be up to the school administration to decide. Landon says, “The reason I chose to coach at Trumansburg is the passion I have for the school that I attended and played for. This will be my fifth year with the majority of those players. I would hope that would help get the program off the ground. I feel I really know their strengths and weaknesses and would be able to help those kids to continue to be successful on and off the field. I am proud that as kids have aged out of our youth program and moved to modified they have always asked me to move up with them.
Maybe next year makes sense to be that year.” Wright notes, “I love coaching and teaching our youth! I want to see the process through with the kids that I started with five years ago.”
Of the return of the football program, Jon Keong notes, “This return is planned at present but will be contingent upon the number of students that sign up for each team. We have discussed this plan with youth football coaches as well as with our athletic committee and are prepared to make that recommendation to the board formally if the numbers can support it.” When asked about following suit of Lansing and Newfield, who moved to the eight-man option this year, he says, “Yes! With eight-man being an option now, that is the thing that is helping all of us to feel more confident about being able to support our own Trumansburg program in the future. For now, we are staying with the merger in order to honor the agreements that we made with the other districts, but as that timeline moves forward, we are all hoping to have our own eight-man team.”
Eight-man football seems to be the best option for the return of the Trumansburg football program in 2019 and 2020, although it is anticipated that the proposed 2019 modified team could have numbers reaching 25, which is well beyond the required 16 minimum for 11-man football. While the return of the Trumansburg football program remains unclear, the potential for the future certainly seems bright, and Trumansburg football fans will not have to wait much longer to know if their dreams will be realized. In accordance with section 4 athletics rules, intent to field a Trumansburg team will need to be submitted by Jan. 1, 2019.
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