Small schools pool players to form team
Stars and Stripes September 18, 2013
John Bechinina knew that if there was a football team, he would be on it. At 5-foot-10 and 222 pounds, the Bamberg junior describes himself as a “pretty big guy.”
But that was also a pretty big “if.”
Some 60 kilometers down the road, senior Dieudonne “DJ” Bascombe was still adjusting to the life-changing move from Virginia to Germany. A standout football player at Prince George High School, Bascombe knew he’d find a role if his new high school, Schweinfurt, had a football team.
Another big “if.”
Amid this uncertainty, Bechinina, Bascombe and a smattering of other high-school age boys from the two communities spent the final days of a scorching German summer waiting and wondering, preparing mentally and physically for a football season that might not ever happen. Bascombe even developed a reluctant contingency plan in case it didn’t.
“I don’t know,” Bascombe said. “Get ready for basketball.”
Meanwhile, a committee led by DODDS-Europe athletic director Karen Seadore were figuring out if the kids from Schweinfurt, Bamberg, and comparably small schools could somehow be given a football season.
In 2012, DODDS-Europe fielded three divisions. Bamberg was in Division III, a group of seven of the organization’s smallest and most geographically remote schools playing nine-man football. The cost of flying these teams, spread across five countries stretching from Italy to Spain to the United Kingdom, to play each other was staggering: a single game could cost as much as $15,000.
It couldn’t continue.
DODDS-Europe scrapped Division III in favor of two divisions, both playing 11-man ball, with more workable travel schedules. Schools were forced to produce enough players to fill a sufficient roster or be left out.
But Schweinfurt, a Division II school in 2012, and Bamberg were both small and getting smaller, in large part because both schools are slated to close at the end of the 2013-14 school year. DODEA enrollment data gathered on Sept. 13 shows Bamberg with just 61 students in grades nine-12, including just three seniors. Schweinfurt boasts 12 seniors among 73 students in grades nine-12.
By itself, neither school could field a football team.
The histories of Bamberg and Schweinfurt have been intertwined. Students from a wide swath of Bavaria were bused to Bamberg before Schweinfurt High School was opened in August 2011. A few upperclassmen have attended both. Despite their proximity, the schools are too young and interdependent to sustain a feud like that between German giants Kaiserslautern and Ramstein.
For the schools’ athletic directors, Richard Jordan of Schweinfurt and William Schofield of Bamberg, the solution was simple. Their football teams would merge. The union would affect only the football teams; each school would continue to field teams in any other sport it was able to find enough players for. The details fell into place quickly.
Jesse Woods, who had led Schweinfurt to a 3-3 season in 2012, would serve as coach of the new combined team. The nine players from Bamberg would ride a bus to Schweinfurt for full-squad practices three times a week, and stage workouts at Bamberg the other two days. The schedule was not ideal, but far better than the alternative.
“It’s a great benefit for our kids to be able to go there,” Schofield said.
Bechinina and Bascombe heard the news in mid-August, just a couple weeks removed from the start of the season. The former Bamberg Barons and the existing Schweinfurt Razorbacks quickly strived to form a cohesive team, knowing that each their seasons entirely to their new teammates.
“I was pretty psyched,” Bechinina said. “They’re a bunch of great guys.”
On Saturday, Sept. 7, the team took to the Schweinfurt football field for its first game. Family members and fans from both schools filled the home sideline. There were no clever portmanteau word of school or team names, no split jerseys or displayed divided loyalties.
There were only the Razorbacks, with Bascombe as their quarterback, lined up against a tough Hohenfels squad that both schools longed to beat. But even their combined resources were overmatched, and they took a 38-14 loss.
“I’m pleased with the effort,” Woods said after an upbeat postgame speech to his players that included a call to continue recruiting any able-bodied classmates not yet participating.
The Razorbacks lost again a week later to another larger local rival, falling 43-6 to Ansbach. They’ll visit Naples on Saturday needing a win to salvage any postseason hopes they might have entertained.
Barring the playoffs, their season will end Oct. 5, less than two months after they knew they would have a season at all.
And then, with their makeshift alliance dissolved and the usual lines redrawn, they will get ready for basketball.