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AFNORTH, Brussels to merge football squads

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 18, 2015

Small DODDS-Europe schools AFNORTH and Brussels will save their respective football seasons by joining forces on a combined team that will play AFNORTH’s Division II schedule.

DODDS-Europe Athletic Director Karen Seadore announced the merger Friday.

“There are still a few logistical issues to be ironed out,” Seadore said in the announcement. The two schools are about 100 miles apart. “But I am confident that both schools can make this work.”

While the move isn’t unprecedented in DODDS-Europe, previous such mergers have primarily involved very small schools rapidly shedding students ahead of impending closure. Bamberg and Schweinfurt combined football teams in 2013, the final year of existence for both schools, while Menwith Hill salvaged its final season last fall by teaming up with neighboring non-DODDS program Woodham.

While neither school involved in Friday’s decision is slated to close, unviable roster sizes at both AFNORTH and Brussels made the move necessary to save both schools’ football seasons.

Ahead of the season opener Saturday, AFNORTH Athletic Director Greg Blankenship said his team was reduced to 11 eligible players this week, exactly enough to field a regulation lineup but not enough to do so safely or in compliance with DODDS-Europe rules. A call to Seadore led to the discovery that Brussels was having similar problems forming a team to play in its local nine-man league in Belgium. Blankenship and Brussels Athletic Director Mark McVicker quickly agreed to the mutually beneficial solution Seadore said.

Blankenship said that AFNORTH will contribute 14 players to the squad after a few lingering eligibility issues are cleared up, while Brussels will provide 10 players, producing a 24-player roster squarely in line with its Division II peers.

“We will now have enough to get all players rest throughout the game,” Blankenship said.

The combined AFNORTH/Brussels team will compete in the North region of DODDS-Europe’s 12-team Division II alongside Alconbury, Baumholder and defending champion Ansbach. The squad’s first game was set for Saturday at SHAPE.

While nothing has been made official beyond this season, Seadore said she sees the AFNORTH-Brussels football merger as a “long-term” arrangement, as the schools’ enrollment numbers and football participation levels are unlikely to trend upward in the coming years.

“It’s about affording kids the opportunity to play football,” Seadore said.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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