Because of low participation numbers, the Valley City High School boys basketball program will not field a junior varsity team for the 2013-2014 school year, Dan Larson, the activities director for Valley City Public Schools, announced.
"If everyone stayed out that's currently playing in (grades) 9-11 and eighth grade, we'd have approximately 24 athletes," Larson told the VCPS school board during its regular meeting Monday.
"What I perceive for the coming year, not a great scenario, but I see us fielding our C team and our varsity team, and then trying to put as many freshman games together to get these younger players experience at their level so that when it comes their time in two or three years, they're getting their experience," Larson said.
With 10 seniors, the school has enough athletes to fill teams at the varsity, junior varsity, and c-squad levels this season.
The issue lies in participation from the current sophomore and junior classes, which have only six total participants in the program, including only two juniors.
The two-team setup next year will use the C-squad as an all-inclusive team for freshmen, sophomores and juniors, while also retaining a full varsity squad that will continue to play in the Eastern Dakota Conference. Next year's varsity team will likely consist of whichever sophomores and juniors return, along with a large contingent of the current freshman class, which has nine players in the program.
"We're going to be very young," Larson said. "We're going to have sophomores pitted up against seniors that have played in the EDC, which we know is going to be an obvious mismatch."
VCHS assistant coach Scott Wilmes told the school board that the district has plenty of players currently at the junior high and freshman level that will fill the roster as the years progress.
"Really, as far as we can discern, it's that the idea that the (current) junior class just doesn't exist, and it becomes a (matter of) what do you do?" Wilmes said.
Though the school explored dropping the varsity program for a year or two, Larson said he couldn't think of any other examples in the state where it had been done, besides when a school was bringing back a program.
Similar to the past, the school also looked at playing the sport separately from the Eastern Dakota Conference and opting for an independent schedule instead.
The school decided against it because of EDC bylaws that require conference participation in every sport a school offers, Larson said. By leaving the EDC solely in boys basketball, programs such as tennis, girls basketball, or wrestling could face difficulties.
“It would just take a lot away from us,” Larson said. “We wouldn’t gain as much as we’d lose, probably.”
Instead, the school hopes its players get plenty of experience and that the district's incoming classes provide more consistency in numbers.
"We hope it's more a one-year situation, more a dip in the pattern, if you want to call it that," Koppelman said.
Larson said the issue isn’t limited to Valley City and that other EDC schools have cancelled their JV games with the Hi-Liners because of similar problems.
School board member Rick Ross asked whether the problem would affect other sports, such as baseball, track or football. Larson said he didn't know if it would be "as drastic" a hit for the baseball or track teams, but he was confident the football team's participation numbers would remain steady.
Koppelman said parents in the district understand the issue and that some parents have pitched having a program similar to Valley City Thunder football team or Valley City Express wrestling team, which are aimed at elementary school athletes.
"I think personally, something like that would be fantastic, because we've seen results from Thunder football and the Express wrestling program," Koppelman said.
Board members noted that there are several traveling teams and opportunities for local basketball players, but felt a similar "feeder" program would be helpful for the sport.
"Especially when you have hockey, and gymnastics for the girls, they all have that program to build off of," board president Joyce Braunagel said.
The JV team is expected to return down the road, though Larson said when it happens will be driven by the basketball program's numbers.
"We're not going to lose a lot after one year. All of a sudden we could go from 24 to 32 (players)," he said. "It's going to be what best suits the needs of our kids within that framework."