Thunder Mountain students push for compromise in football merger

Superintendent says school district open to suggestions on how to go forward

Juneau’s two high school football programs will be playing together in the future, and students and parents at Thunder Mountain High School want to see more equal representation in the way the merger goes.

 

In October, the Juneau School District sent a request to the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) proposing that the football program at TMHS be discontinued and that those students have an option to play at Juneau-Douglas High School. On Nov. 2, ASAA approved the request.

The TMHS Student Government passed a resolution of its own this week to request that the school district find a way to create a program that would be representative of both schools, not just JDHS.

The TMHS resolution, which was read aloud during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, stated that the student government members supported the overall reasoning behind the consolidation. What the students wanted, though, was to find a way “that would allow for both programs to maintain elements of their identity in a new program that would equally represent both high schools and allow students from TMHS to participate in a football program that is representative of their school.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, 10 people including players, coaches and parents from the Falcons’ program spoke to the board members about their thoughts on the merger. Some of them read statements from other students who weren’t able to make it to the meeting, and one woman read a letter from former JDHS and TMHS head football coach Jeep Rice who presented arguments against the consolidation.

Current TMHS football assistant coach Jeff Hedges was not opposed to the consolidation. He did, however, say it’s time to establish a neutral “Juneau team” while disbanding both programs (not just TMHS).

“I don’t think we need to look outside of this town to see precedence for it,” Hedges said. “My dad graduated from Juneau High School in 1953 and his friends graduated from Douglas High School and we were able to combine and move forward as JDHS and create new programs without erasing the things that had been done by either of those schools.”

Alvin Huber, a junior lineman at TMHS, lamented the loss of the program’s identity.

“We are losing our colors, our traditions and our mascot,” Huber said, suggesting that the two programs compromise on a team name. “…It’s important to know that identity is what everybody’s made out of. You have your name, and that’s what makes you, you. Thunder Mountain football is currently losing theirs.”

For the most part, those who testified at the meeting understood the reasoning behind the merger but wanted to incorporate the identity of the Thunder Mountain program into this new team. Ideas such as combining team colors or combining team names (such as Thunder Bears or Crimson Falcons) were mentioned.

The TMHS student resolution cited multiple other examples of high schools consolidating their sports teams and creating new programs with new identities, including programs in Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon and elsewhere.

Currently, ASAA does not have policies or bylaws specifically addressing if and how a consolidated team creates a new name.

The decision to consolidate the programs stemmed from both health and financial reasons, Director of Student Services Bridget Weiss wrote in the request to ASAA in October. The TMHS team is $118,000 in debt and the JDHS team is $33,000 in debt, according to the request.

Both Weiss and Superintendent Mark Miller said during Tuesday’s meeting that this was an “unprecedented” situation for ASAA and that there is still quite a bit to figure out with how to best consolidate the teams.

“This is going to evolve and unveil itself through the process,” Miller said. “I think the only thing we know for sure right now is that next year we’re going to have one football team, one varsity football team. I think everything else is up for discussion and clarification.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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