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Open Mike: Eden, N. Collins joining forces in football win-win

It’s been talked about for the past few seasons by Eden head football coach Chuck Tilley, brought up in this space at a few points over that time, mulled over a bit by the two school districts involved and now it looks to be on the verge of becoming a reality.

With the recent approval by both the Eden and North Collins school boards, the combining of the two schools for football looks to be on the verge of happening. The plan to combine the varsity, junior varsity and modified teams just needs to be approved by Section VI at this point, and that seems to be an eventuality.

There couldn’t be more of a win-win situation for both districts and athletic programs, as they converge, at this point, only for football.

Tilley’s big push during the past few seasons has been boosting his numbers, which have been on the decline, making the Raiders one of, if not the, smallest school and team fielded in Section VI’s Class B.

This has not been due to a lack of success, with Eden having made the playoffs the past five seasons, all under Tilley’s leadership, despite playing the past four of those seasons in the B classification.

This year, the Raiders upset Cheektowaga to advance to the sectional semifinals, where they lost to a traditionally powerful Depew, which nearly doubled Eden’s numbers.

For North Collins, this presents an opportunity for its student athletes, that has never been there before. Football will now provide another chance for Eagles’ athletes to get on the field and have a choice of two sports in the fall.

There have been and are a number of North Collins District students playing youth football in Eden Little Loop, but they are then not afforded the opportunity to play at higher levels, unless they enroll in a private school with a football program.

North Collins has a very proud boys soccer program, which has won a remarkable 24 sectional titles, so it is no surprise that there may have been some hesitancy at first. But, in the long run, it can be safely assumed there will be enough athletes still longing to be part of the tradition of North Collins soccer.

Tilley never envisioned an overwhelming number of athletes from North Collins coming over to play football, but even if it were just five to 10 at each level, that would be a big help to the Eden program.

Since going to the Class C final at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2009, the Raiders have fielded teams of fewer than 25 players at the varsity and junior varsity levels. Tilley has talked about how difficult it has been to practice with two platoons and to have any contact, in trying to avoid the possibility of injury.

This also couldn’t have come at a better time for Eden, because the team may be in for some rebuilding, after consecutive difficult seasons at the junior varsity level — so why not do that, while integrating North Collins athletes?

The move should keep Eden in Class B, but even without it, there was a feeling that the state BED numbers would go down for 2014, keeping the Raiders from being able to move to C, anyway.

This is a trend that is becoming more common in area football. Once more prevalent only among Class D and C teams, B squads Medina combined with Lyndonville a few years back and East Aurora did the same with Holland, for this past season.

Both of those co-op teams also gave Lyndonville and Holland athletes their first chance to play football, just like a co-op team at Eden will do for North Collins students.

It’s a obvious in a situation such as this, not everyone will be happy with this decision, but it would be difficult to deny the opportunity that this will provide at both schools.

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