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May 24, 2021 - 7:28pm

Batavia and Notre Dame hockey programs talking merger

posted by Howard B. Owens in hockey, news, sports, notify.

mergercoaches2021.jpg

One of the most storied rivalries in Section V hockey could come to an end as soon as next season if the Batavia Ice Devils and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish become a single team.

Team coaches presented the proposal to the Batavia City School District Board of Trustees tonight and the board gave both programs permission to continue exploring the idea of a merger and drafting a five-year agreement for Batavia-Notre Dame hockey teams at the junior varsity and varsity levels.

The concept has already been approved by the Notre Dame Board of Trustees.

Tonight, by consent, the Batavia board authorized the talks to continue between coaches and athletic directors. If a final agreement is reached, a final resolution will be presented to approval for both boards. Section V must also approve the merger.

If approved, it is likely that Marc Staley, who has coached Notre Dame for 21 years, would be the varsity coach of the merged teams. John Kirkwood, 14 years with Batavia, would be the assistant coach. And Brennan Briggs, varsity football coach and a coach with Batavia hockey, would be the JV coach.

"We think we can build a community," Batavia Athletic Director Mike Bromley told the board. "It’s more than Batavia and Notre Dame. It’s a community."

Batavia has been merged with other schools in the county for four years. Those mergers would end if this proposal is approved.

One of the big concerns both for coaches and board members was what happens to the six hockey players who do not attend Batavia High and have been members of the Ice Devils. Those players go to school in Alexander, Elba, Le Roy, Oakfield-Alabama and Pembroke.

Staley and Kirkwood both made assurances that all six players will be "grandfathered" into the Batavia-Notre Dame team and Staley said all six, given their experience and ability, will be integral parts of the merged team for the next season or two. 

"All six players are going to be impactful players at the varsity level," Staley said.

Both Staley and Kirkwood said that their teams have been playing at a disadvantage against larger Monroe County schools, including merged programs, because filling out a complete varsity roster means putting seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders on their teams.

That is also a safety issue, Staley said. 

"We just come to the conclusion that relying on seventh- and eighth-graders, and ninth-graders who are ill-prepared, and putting them on the ice, how do we answer this as a board, as adults, as administrators, if a seventh- or eighth-grader gets seriously injured in a hockey game because he’s hit by a kid who six-foot-four, 220?" Staley said. "We’ve got some real questions. Why are we putting these kids here and for what reason?"

Bromley said there are 24 hockey teams in Section V and 12 of them are merged programs. Few if any of those programs are putting players who should be playing JV in varsity uniforms.

The merger would create a JV program that would allow players to develop and become better varsity players.

It might even mean -- if enough kids sign up -- that the schools could have a modified program, creating the same sort of pipeline that Briggs has created with Blue Devils football leading to repeated sectional championships.

For the most part, parents and players have been receptive to the idea, both Staley and Kirkwood said.

There have been parents who have objected to the idea that their kid as a ninth-grader was on varsity and now will likely play JV as a sophomore but Staley said his counterargument is that at least they will get to play.

“To be an eighth-grader or ninth-grader and get to wear your jersey to school on game day and know darn well you’re probably not going to see a shift is a little different than going to school in your jersey knowing ‘I have a JV game. I’m playing tonight,' " Staley said.

Briggs said his JV-playing nephew can't wait for the merger. He's excited, Briggs said. His nephew knows if it happens he is going to get a chance to play every game and that he will play at a level throughout his prep-hockey career that he will compete every season for a championship.

There is an issue a team name. Ice Devils, or perhaps, Irish Devils, won't wash with a Catholic school. Blue Shamrocks or Ice Angels seem like nonstarters, too, but in response to a question from Trustee Shawna Murphy, there probably won't be time to poll the community. That's because the time frame is short for getting Section V approval and ordering new uniforms for both varsity and JV. The team name is a pending question.

Whatever the name, Staley is convinced the community will embrace the new team -- a club that is ready to compete at the varsity level with McQuaid or Victor or Pittsford. 

"We haven’t had that building filled with 500 people all cheering for the same team for 25 years," Staley told the board.

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