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WALLINGFORD — With high school consolidation being considered by the Board of Education again, some veteran coaches from Lyman Hall and Sheehan high schools shared their thoughts on what a combined high school would mean for scholastic sports.
The Board of Education is slated to take a consensus on high school consolidation at its June 14 meeting. If the operations committee decides in favor of moving to one high school, the board is expected to vote formally on the issue on June 21.
Veteran Sheehan track coach Charles Farley, who was around when Sheehan opened and Wallingford became a two-public high school town in 1971, said he supports keeping both schools open.
“It’s interesting," Farley said. “There are a lot of pros and cons. I like the idea of two high schools because it opens up opportunities for twice as many kids. Theoretically, one school will produce better athletics, but there are a lot of big schools that aren’t doing well athletically.”
Farley added that Sheehan and Lyman Hall have long-standing identities and traditions.
“What’s going to happen to those traditions if there’s one high school?” Farley wondered.
Sheehan girls soccer coach Rob Huelsman said he’s neutral on the issue.
“I can see it as a positive in some way because we have top-level athletes on both sides of town,” Huelsman said. “The tougher side of is that it will be less opportunities for lesser-skilled players.
“I always take a project or two that need a lot of work and give them an opportunity to develop,” he added. “I don’t know if I could do that in a one-school situation.”
Then there’s the issue of who coaches the teams. Huelsman said in the past, when this topic was brought up, the solution was to have all coaches reapply when the schools merged to keep it as fair as possible.
“For right now, I think it would be four or five years away,” Huelsman said. “We will see what happens with the Board of Ed in a few weeks and take it from there.”
Huelsman, a Wallingford resident, said he understands that the student population numbers are dropping and are projected to continue to fall.
“I live in Wallingford and I’m always looking at what it’s going to cost you,” Huelsman said. “They have to look at it economically. Athletically, it’s fun having the cross-town rivalry games and our famous Powder Puff game.
“There are plusses and minuses,” he continued. “I’m more neutral than anything. Look at what the two schools have accomplished. We have history now, but it may come down to economics.”
Lyman Hall veteran boys soccer coach Arnie Jandreau, also a Wallingford resident, is in favor of the merge.
“I always thought it would be better with one school; I’m all for it,” Jandreau said. “I think it will save the town a lot of money and expenses. The downside athletically is you are going to see some kids not play varsity, but we would have have one heck of a sports team.
“(Sheehan coach) Lou (Rodriguez) said we would coach together if this ever happened,” Jandreau added. “I’m all for it because of the cost and it would be nice to see all of our kids playing together like towns like Cheshire and North Haven.”
Jandreau said his roster numbers have been down by a lot in recent years, to the point where the Trojans have barely been able to field a JV squad and don’t have a freshman team.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, said education should be the determining reason for the decision, not athletics.
“Education comes first, and then sports. I’m interested to see the full plan and how cost-effective one school would be tax-wise,” Rodriguez said. “We want to continue to provide the best education and all of the new services that will coming to both high schools, and then we figure out the sports. If it happens, I would be more than happy to work with Arnie given the opportunity if the schools merged.”
Sheehan boys basketball coach Joe Gaetano is also torn on the issue.
“For enrollment purposes, I can see where (the Board) is coming from,” Gaetano said. “But after all of these years, it would be tough to do away with all of the tradition we have built in athletics.”
The total project cost for the merger is an estimated $187,115,480, with construction costs coming in at $154,961,060.
With an estimated state reimbursement of $82,199,830, the cost to the town would be $104,915,650. The projected new school would be at the Lyman Hall campus.