(WBEN) In large stadiums and small bleachers across Western New York, it is opening day of High School football tonight. Other than the usual crop of new athletes, there are some substantial changes in some district programs.
- In Tonawanda they take to the field at a brand new Clinton Small stadium next Tonawanda High School. The new facility has artificial turf, and a new scoreboard . It replaces the former Clinton Small stadium on Main Street.
- In Holland--- they have players on a field for the first time ever, with five of their players joining the East Aurora Blue Devils in a combination team. Similar mergers ocurred in the off season in the Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake and Silver Creek/Forestville Districts.
Of the 78 teams in Section Six ( Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus & Chautauqua Counties ) there are 7 teams that field players from more than one school, also including Barker/Roy-Hart, Medina/Lyndonville, Westfield/Brocton, Cattaraugus/Little Valley.
"It's a great thing and I'm very excited about giving the Holland students a chance to play with the East Aurora students, who had to forfeit a game last year because we didn't have enough players. I think its a great idea ," says Patrick Keem, a retired dentist that has served as the East Aurora Public Address announcer at games for 30 years.
He has no concerns about losing any team identity- The East Aurora team will still be the EA Blue Devils, with the Holland players wearing a special patch on their uniforms.
"There's no loss of East Aurora Pride... they are part of our team now too," Keem says.
Frank Kolbmann is one of several parents there that fought to get at least some sort of a new startup team this year, he says in some ways it's a partial victory, but one he's willing to take.
"For the longest time, ever since I moved to Holland, when I heard they didn't have a football team, when they had enough kids and they had the resources, Why Not?," says Frank Kolbmann, a frequent school board critic and one of many parents that lobbied long and hard to let Holland kids play football. "....This school board is much more understanding"
Under the merger plan approved by both school boards in May, the Holland boosters raised one third of East Aurora's annual football budget-- mostly through sales of T shirts that read “Holland/East Aurora Football, first class, 2013."