SARANAC LAKE - The football merger between sections VII and X has ended, which means when Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake take on their schedules this coming fall, they won't be facing each other on the football field in what had been the annual battle for the Mayors Cup.
As a member of Section VII, the Red Storm will return to playing just teams in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference, while Tupper Lake will play only opponents from Section X's Northern Athletic Conference.
It was stated that officials from Section X wanted to end the merger, which began in 2003 and was entering its second season of a two-year agreement. The major reason given for dissolving the merger was the rising costs of travel.
Saranac Lake football players Matt Phelan, left, and Kyle McGrain join teammates in hoisting the Mayors Cup trophy following last year’s Red Storm win over rival Tupper Lake. The two will be back playing as seniors this fall, but they won’t face the Lumberjacks.
(Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)
Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake have played each other every season since sections VII and X merged their football leagues in 2003, including action in this photo from the 2011 game. But the merger has ended, which means the two rivals won’t be squaring off on the football field this fall for the traditional Mayors Cup game.
(Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)
Since the Red Storm defeated the Lumberjacks in 2011, the Mayors Cup will stay at Saranac Lake High School until the two teams meet again sometime in the future.
And the 20 miles that separate the towns of Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake appear to make all the difference when it comes to opinions about continuing or ending the merger. Tupper Lake head football coach Dennis Klossner said he always was and still is a solid backer of the merger, while Saranac Lake coach Eric Bennett, as well as Red Storm Athletic Director Mark Farmer, are generally happy to see it end.
"It's too bad that we won't be playing Tupper Lake this fall," Bennett said. "Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are two proud Adirondack football towns, and when we play, the game is the one big thing that's happening in our towns that day.
"I'm also going to miss playing that big game against Ogdensburg, but I like everything else about ending the merger," Bennett added. "We're looking forward to renewing old rivalries and playing some bigger hard-nosed teams. I think a return to playing just Section VII teams will help get us better prepared for the state playoffs if we are fortunate enough to advance. Ultimately, the champions from Section VII will still get a crack at Section X teams during the postseason."
The 2012 Section VII football schedule has already been made official, while Section X's slate has yet to be drawn up. The Red Storm are again a Class C team with AuSable Valley being the only other Section VII squad in the same class. Tupper Lake is the only Class D team in Section X this season, which means the Lumberjacks will eventually face either Ticonderoga or Moriah in a Section X-VII championship game prior to the state playoff round.
"I'm disappointed the merger is ending, and I'll miss that game against Saranac Lake for sure," Klossner said. "In my opinion, the merger only strengthened North Country Football. Everybody in Section X and Section VII knows how I feel about it. The merger helped programs that were struggling because it provided a more evenly-matched schedule. Every team played four home games and four away games.
"I'm not happy the merger is ending, but when the football season comes, I'll be excited," Klossner continued. "We'll be happy playing and it doesn't matter who our opponent is. Our main goal is always getting ready for the playoffs, and eventually, we'll face either Moriah or Ti."
Peru, Beekmantown, Saranac Central and Plattsburgh will be the four Class B teams in Section VII, providing the Hornets do play football after their school district budget was voted down Tuesday. Those will be four of Saranac Lake's opponents, with Class D teams Ticonderoga and Moriah the other two Red Storm opponents. This fall, Saranac Lake and Moriah will play each other twice with both games on the Red Storm's field.
The first seven games on the Section VII schedule will count toward playoff seedings, with the teams that have the best records earning home games for the sectional postseason. Week No. 8 will see Class B teams battling in semifinal playoff action, while the four remaining squads will play a "crossover" game, which is how Saranac Lake and Moriah have wound up facing each other a second time.
He said one of the biggest benefits related to ending the merger is junior varsity and varsity teams will both have the same opponents each week, and the games will be held at the same location, which was the same way contests were scheduled prior to the merger.
"Under the merger, if you had a kid playing JV and another playing varsity, one would have been going one way for a game and the other would be playing on the other side of the North Country," Farmer said. "That wasn't rare, and it made it tough on families. Now, each week will provide a whole day of football for towns across Section VII."
"Obviously, we are very disappointed not to be playing Tupper Lake. It's a great rivalry," Farmer added. "We will keep the Mayors Cup warm until we resume the friendly rivalry that both towns have enjoyed."