OLD SAYBROOK— Facing declining numbers of football players, the Board of Education voted last week to approve merging the high school team with the team at The Morgan School in Clinton to form a new tri-school football co-op the will include Clinton, Old Saybrook and Westbrook.
Brendan Saunders, the athletic director for Old Saybrook, said he had discussed the possibility of forming a football co-op with The Morgan School last year, but that the idea “was met with a lot of resistance.” Saunders said that originally, the district expected to have 40 students for football last year, but that number eventually dropped down to 27.
The district graduated 11 seniors last year, leaving the team with 17 students for the coming year. Saunders said the ideal number for a football team is about 40 students.
“The feeder program in Old Saybrook has been devastated after COVID. We used to support three youth teams, now we have one that is made up of many towns,” said Saunders.
Saunders said that last year, the district had formed a junior varsity co-op with The Morgan School, which he said was critical for students who wanted to play in high school. He said that because of the complexity of the game, it was very difficult to step into football as a high school freshman.
Saunders said he believed that the co-op would make the team more competitive.
“In three years we haven’t won a game, unfortunately,” said Saunders. “These kids really, really work, and to not have them see any success for three years is really difficult.”
From a health and safety perspective, Saunders added, it’s also important to have around 40 players so that freshmen are not trying to compete against seniors and so players with differing weights aren’t matched up in games.
Old Saybrook and Westbrook have had a co-op program since 1988. With Clinton added in, the co-op would be expected to include about 17 players from Old Saybrook, one from Westbrook and 23 from The Morgan School. Saunders said that nearly all the schools in the Pequot Conference participate in co-ops with other schools.
“We have a really open relationship with all of the Morgan staff, with all of the Morgan coaches. They are all for this. Our coaching staff is all for this,” said Saunders.
Saunders said that since Morgan has more players, they would be considered the host school, but that there would be at least one or two games played on the Old Saybrook field. He said the school’s turf field would be an asset to the teams.
Board member Steve Beeler said he did want to see the football field at Old Saybrook be used.
“We do have a beautiful facility. We have spent a ton of money. We have improved it significantly since we started. To me, one game doesn’t feel very cooperative,” said Beeler.
Board members also asked about what would happen with the mascot and the team names — the Old Saybrook/Westbrook team are the Rams, and The Morgan School are the Huskies.
Maryann O’Donnell, superintendent for Clinton Public Schools, said in an email that the Clinton Board of Education plans to discuss the partnership at its February 6 meeting. She said the schools had success combining their junior varsity rosters this year, and noted that all three schools had declining enrollments.
Kristina Martineau, superintendent for Westbrook Public Schools, said the district was in full support of the co-op, adding that their partnership with Old Saybrook had been successful for years.
“It allows our students interested in playing football the continued opportunity to do so,” Martineau wrote in an email.
Saunders said that, without the move, the team would not survive.
“This pains me, but if it keeps Saybrook kids playing football, I am all for it.”
This story has been updated with additional comments O’Donnell and Martineau