As we have previously reported, Rockland County schools have considered moving from Section 1 to Section 9 beginning in 2014. There are several areas of concern, one of them being how the massive forthcoming construction project to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge would impact potential commutes into Westchester County. The project is projected to last five years, although we know construction timelines are about as firm as quicksand.
One of our news reporters, Khurram Saeed, wrote about the positive reaction of two Rockland athletic directors — North Rockland’s Joe Casarella and Tappan Zee’s Liam Frawley — following an hour-long meeting between the project’s public spokesman, Brian Conybeare, who met with all of the county AD’s on Thursday.
From what I can gather, Rockland schools share mixed opinions about the potential move. I’ve been told at least two schools are strongly in favor of returning to Section 9. Several others are strongly opposed to it. I also know folks in Westchester and Putnam all seem to hope the schools stay. This meeting appears to at least be a modest step toward that conclusion.
Mentioned within the story is the desire to expand conferences. Here’s some background, at least as I understand it: Rockland schools often have trouble filling their non-league schedules because only schools in the county are assigned to them. With 11 schools (six in one league, five in another), that’s simply not enough to fill up a non-league basketball or soccer schedule.
From what I can gather, the ADs either have urged or will urge the section to move both leagues into another conference. Currently, Section 1 teams are automatically assigned non-league games against teams in other leagues within their conference. For example, teams in League 1-A will be assigned non-league games against a team in League 1-B, 1-C, etc. Those games can be canceled or postponed. (Case in point: Before the game was canceled, many of you asked how Woodlands was on Mount Vernon’s basketball schedule earlier this season. Well…that was how.) It is my understanding that Rockland schools would like to be included in another conference to ease the burden of creating their non-league schedules.
Anyway, I just wanted to provide some background info. Here is Khurram’s story from today’s paper:
BARDONIA — They came brimming with questions about the new Tappan Zee Bridge — about tolls and travel times and construction schedules.
The state official didn’t have an answer to every query, but he had most, and that seemed to be good enough for many of the 13 athletic directors representing all 11 public and private high schools in Rockland, Felix Festa Middle School in West Nyack and the Clarkstown school district.
Local athletic directors have been so concerned that the five-year construction project will play havoc with scheduling, eat into their budgets to cross into Westchester and turn off parents from watching their children play across the river that they are considering playing all of their games against schools based west of the Hudson River starting in the 2014-15 school year. Rockland schools are currently in Section 1 and would shift to Section 9.
But there seemed to be a mild sense of relief among the athletic directors following an hour-long meeting with Brian Conybeare, the public face of the $3.9 billion project, at the West Rock sports complex in Bardonia. The meeting was private, but two directors spoke with The Journal News after it ended.
“He really took a lot of our fears and put them to sleep,” North Rockland High School athletic director Joe Casarella said.
Casarella said the sentiment among his staff and residents has been to “stay where we are,” but there were legitimate worries about how changed traffic patterns would affect how long student-athletes would have to sit on a bus and if the district would be able to maintain its competitive programs against the larger schools in Westchester.
Although construction details are still being developed, Conybeare said that in the near future the bridge builders, Tappan Zee Constructors, would be able to provide athletic directors with a construction schedule six months to a year in advance. That would give districts plenty of time to schedule accordingly, Casarella said.
When traffic is shifted to one of the two new spans in 2016, Conybeare said, the crossing will actually have more capacity than the existing bridge.
Casarella said certain schools would prefer to switch to Section 9, while others preferred the status quo.
About five years ago, Section 1 schools realigned by geography, Tappan Zee High athletic director Liam Frawley said. That means teams in Rockland play the majority of games, typically 60 to 70 percent, within the county. The balance of the schedule is filled with “crossover games,” and are played against teams from New Jersey, Orange, as well as Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties. Half of those crossover games are played in Rockland.
The number of games played across the river varies by the school and sport, Frawley said.
Frawley, who is president of the Conference IV Rockland Public School Athletic League, praised Conybeare for his “thorough and informative” presentation and also credited him for being straightforward about not having all the answers.
On the issue of how much tolls will increase on the new bridge, Conybeare reiterated the state’s position that the figure was dependent on whether the state secured a low-interest federal loan to defray construction costs. Federal and state officials are still negotiating, and the timing of an announcement is unclear.
Frawley said instead of changing sections, the Rockland athletic directors would propose to alter it. Doing so would mean more schools in each conference, which would allow Rockland schools to fill out their schedules while maintaining rivalries east of the Hudson.
If the Rockland schools opt to change sections, the decision must be officially made by Nov. 30, but Frawley said they would likely do it by the end of the school year.
All of the Section 1 athletic directors are scheduled to meet Feb. 28 in Elmsford to discuss the ramifications of bridge construction as a group. Conybeare has also been invited to attend that meeting to answer questions.
Casarella was trying to take a positive view of the project.
“Once (the bridge) is done, it’s going to be 10 times better,” he said.