Commentary: The flight of the Golden Eagles

-A A +A
By Mike Forster

When I first heard of Staunton River's proposed move to the Blue Ridge, from the Seminole, I didn't like it. It splits our county schools into two districts. We run the risk of having seasons in which county schools don't play one another. On the personal side, it makes it more difficult to track and cover the numerous sports, not just at Staunton River, but at all three county schools.

But, after I take my selfish reasons out of the mix, I start to warm up to the idea a bit.

Last week's announcement included some of the rationale for the potential move.

Basically, the reasoning is that the school's sports programs need a jump start. The combination of a sparkling new gym and a district that is more geographically aligned with the school's student body will reinvigorate sports at the school, or so goes the thinking.

Give the school's administration credit for recognizing a problem and trying to do something about it.

But why is a jump start needed? Where have the Staunton River kids been when it comes to sports? A school with 1,100 students fields a football team of 35 players? In other sports, I've seen kids on Eagle teams that were clearly not born to thrive in that particular sport. The Eagles seem to field an awful lot of undersized and/or slow teams.

But, the Staunton River kids that do play all seem to have a few common traits: politeness and toughness stand out in particular. They are always a fun bunch to cover. The problem is there just aren't enough of them getting involved in athletics.

I've had this conversation with many folks and two responses come up the most. First, the students are too busy farming when not in school. Second, many kids shy away from teams without a winning tradition, or a chance at winning.

I don't buy the first reason. While I am absolutely certain that a number of student-farmers exist, I'm equally certain that they are a very small minority. That alibi has been overtaken by the economic realities of the southern part of the county. Besides, one of that small minority of student-farmers is one of the finer wrestlers in the state.

The second reason seems more likely to be the proximate driver. Unfortunately, there is circular reasoning at work here. If you want high participation, you've got to have a winning team. To get a winning team, you need high participation.

That's where the move can help. If your childhood buddy goes to Byrd and plays sports, you might be more inclined to participate as well, knowing you'll get to go against your pal. The kids from Staunton River view themselves as part of Roanoke, not part of Lynchburg. They're not going to get fired up about playing Heritage or Brookville like they will get about Hidden Valley.

If anyone thinks this move is to get an easier go of things, please think again.

This move is not comparable to Appomattox's departure from the Seminole last year. That school was significantly smaller and when it moved to the Dogwood, it found itself among similarly sized schools. In one year, the football Raiders went from last place in the Seminole to playoff-bound contenders in the Dogwood.

Staunton River will get no quarter in the Blue Ridge. While I believe the Seminole is the preeminent football district in the state, you have to give the Blue Ridge its props: Byrd's football team made it to the Regional final, losing to eventual state champ Amherst. Northside's girls' basketball and volleyball teams are always top notch. Lord Botetourt's gals are just a notch below the Vikings'.

Staunton River has pounded its head against the wall in the Seminole for 15 years. The school has but a single Seminole title (baseball) to its credit in this not-so new century. The long term question will be whether this move presents a door or just a differently named wall.

I realize that I have only been on this job for a year and a half. I don't possess an appreciation for the history involved here. I have gotten perspectives from the principals involved in the decision. I'm very interested in what you think of Staunton River's proposed move. Let me know if you think my opinion of this proposal is naive. Of course, if you agree, I'm happy to hear why you may be of that mind.