The SBHS Wolves football team during the 2017 fall sports season.   Photo: Paul Lamontagne,

SBHS and BHS Merge Football Programs

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Thursday February 08, 2018

The South Burlington Wolves football team will play yet again under a new name in the 2018 season. Last season, the school switched the high school’s team names from the Rebels to the Wolves. After finishing with a 2-7 record in Division 1, the team ended the year with fewer than 30 players in the program. With low numbers in the youth program as well, the sustainability of South Burlington football has been an ongoing conversation for over a year.

Local rival Burlington High School (BHS), despite a 7-2 record in Division 1 and a third seed in the playoffs, is experiencing similar issues. Both programs graduated a solid group of seniors.

Fearing program sizes of around twenty players per school team, school officials and athletic administration proposed to merge the programs for two years in order to build back both programs and remain in Division 1. “Losing football was just not an option either school was willing to live with.” South Burlington Coach Joe MacDonald said. The Vermont Principals Association (VPA) approved the proposal, and the Wolves and Seahorses will play as one next fall.

“Getting the co-op approved reflects the successful collaboration between our AD Mike Jabour and BHS Athletic Administration,” Principal Patrick Burke said after the decision was made. “I think the approval of the VPA validates the reality that both schools are facing in terms of being able to continue to offer the activity,” he added. It would be hard for any football program to sustain itself with twenty players, regardless of the division they played in. Such a scenario would likely result in greater rates of injuries, cancelled games, and folding programs. “Our goal is to save football in both of our schools,” MacDonald said. “This decision will set us on the right path for doing just that,” he added.

That path will include many decisions over the next few months, including choosing a team name, what the coaching staff will look like, uniforms and where the team will play its home games. Regardless of the logistics and challenges involved in making the agreement work, South Burlington High School (SBHS) Athletic Director Michael Jabour believes that this could be the beginning of a solution for many other schools in the state.

“Participation across the board for a lot of schools has been down, so if we can be an example of what’s needed to save football then by any means we’d love to be that example,” Jabour said.

Collaborative teams are not a new concept in Vermont. There are two different ways Vermont high schools can come together to increase opportunities for its students. Member to member agreements involve small numbers of students who join receiving school teams when their own school doesn’t have that sport. South Burlington has member to member agreements in bowling with Champlain Valley Union (CVU) and Cheerleading with Mount Mansfield Union (MMU). “Teams that participate in member to member agreements are operated by the “receiving school,” Burke said.

Cooperative teaming is the second way that schools can collaborate. This involves a complete partnership between both schools and the VPA and the media recognizes it as one program. SBHS girls hockey team had a co-op with MMU in the 2012/2013 season and then partnered with CVU from 13-14 to 14-15. Of course South Burlington is not the only school to utilize the benefits associated with collaborative teaming, and this is also not the first time two football programs have joined in a co-op. Poultney and Mount St. Joseph (MSJ) played the past couple seasons in a co-op, and SBHS and Burlington’s agreement is likely not the last of it’s kind. With numbers down and the transition of youth football from tackle to flag beginning across the state, there is great uncertainty with the future of football. Cooperative agreements may become the norm, but the hope is that these kinds of partnerships jumpstart the programs for long-term success.

“The SBHS/BHS cooperative is designed to give the best opportunity for the student-athletes at South Burlington High School and Burlington High School for the sustainability of the football programs at the varsity and junior varsity levels,” Jabour said.

Burke added, “Our student-athletes deserve nothing less than our best effort.”

A steering committee will be created to help with logistics and transition. If interested in being a part of the steering committee please contact Michael Jabour.

SOURCE: Drew Gordon, Correspondent