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Williamsburg: Varsity football program to fold

Co-op partnership with Juniata Valley gains board approval

The Williamsburg Community School District has approved a co-op agreement with Juniata Valley for its varsity football program. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

WILLIAMSBURG — Williamsburg Community High School may have fielded its last varsity football team.

School board members voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a co-op agreement for varsity football with neighboring Juniata Valley School District for the upcoming season. Juniata Valley board members approved the agreement Wednesday night.

The co-op will likely be a long-term arrangement.

“This is not a one-year thing,” said Bob Hearn, Williamsburg athletic director, adding the district is looking at a long-term relationship.

“We are looking at Juniata Valley as a partner in varsity football down the road,” Hearn said.

Juniata Valley head coach Bill Musser echoed that sentiment.

“There is no evidence of a team eliminating a varsity sport and then coming back,” Musser said.

Hearn thought Williamsburg would be able to field a team this season but found that few students were coming out for the sport.

“We were surprised by the numbers, we expected a few more, that we would have enough to make it work,” he said.

A couple of potential players were hurt, Hearn said.

“The numbers were not where we thought they would be. We couldn’t go into a season with 17, including freshmen,” he said.

“For years, Williamsburg has played with smaller numbers. We sat down and looked at the numbers and roster, we would have had 17 healthy players to start the year and that includes freshmen. We decided we would not be able to do that for the safety of the kids,” said Ryan Hileman, who coached Williamsburg the last two years.

In 2020, Williamsburg finished 5-4 and won its first playoff game in 30 years.

After the low turnout for the team, Williamsburg reached out to Juniata Valley about forming the co-op agreement.

Hearn said District 6 and the PIAA must also give approval.

Musser is in favor of the co-op agreement.

“I am in support of it,” Musser said. “We are about the kids. In this business, it is all about what is best for the kids. Coach Hileman and I agree on that. Coach Hileman and I had formed a healthy relationship over the last handful of years. Their kids will fit into our program.”

Hileman will be joining Musser’s coaching staff. It’s not yet known if any Williamsburg assistants will be on the staff.

Hileman said most of his players will be heading to Juniata Valley.

The two schools have had a co-op agreement for junior high football for the past two seasons. For this year, both will field junior high teams.

“This will give playing time to as many kids as possible,” Hearn said. “We will work closely together. It made sense for this year. Going forward the plan is to integrate the junior high with them as well, maybe as early as next year.”

“They will use our system so they will be ready to fit into the varsity program,” Musser said.

Hearn is appreciative of Juniata Valley, a long-time and sometimes bitter rival.

“Juniata Valley has been wonderful from the coaches, administration, school board to work with,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for a better partner. We have always had a big rivalry with Juniata Valley, but what it came down to was to do what was best for the kids. They have a bunch of high character people at Juniata Valley. I have a lot of respect for them. We came together so we could do what was best for the kids.”

Hearn said a recent parent meeting was emotional.

“This is something we have had for a long time. There is a lot of pride in the community. From a safety perspective, we couldn’t move forward. This gives our kids an opportunity to play in the fall,” Hearn said.

“It is devastating for the community,” Hileman said.

Despite the addition of about 17 players, Juniata Valley will remain in Class A, Musser said.

The teams on Williamsburg’s schedule will need to find a replacement but with Bishop Carroll possibly canceling its season (a meeting is scheduled Monday, see related story on B1), lots of opponents may be available to fill the open spots.

“We were to play Williamsburg the fourth game, our home opener,” Musser said. “We are in discussions to find a replacement.”

Hearn said he feels bad the decision was made so close to the start of the season.

“I hate being in this position,” he said. “Class size, we have been fortunate to keep this going as over the past five years we had graduating classes around 30. It just came to the point we couldn’t get enough kids to come out and field a team safely. It got to the point where we didn’t have a choice.”

“This has been talked about many times over the years,” Hileman said. “It was going to happen.”

“I played and coached football here, my brother played here, and my son played here,” Hearn said. “This is a difficult time.”

He said the decision was a hard one.

“Our community has always been so supportive of the football program, and I feel for the members of our community,” he said.

School board president Dr. Barry England became visibly emotional at Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s pretty tough,” England said, requiring a moment to collect his thoughts. “But at the same time, I think that it is for the best. It will work out.”Plans have yet to be finalized concerning how the Williamsburg Senior Night and Homecoming festivities will be handled or how cheerleaders and band members can be a part of the games.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467. Mirror sports writer John Hartsock contributed to this story.

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