Not long ago, I was chatting with a Midd-West School District official regarding the joint football program between his high school and East Juniata.
His prediction was that, when the current two-year agreement between the two districts expires before the 2015 season, there will not be a renewal - in effect, there will be no Midd-West football.
I know the families associated with the program that will fight any such attempt. And I can argue that they should succeed, or that there are better options.
Let me start by saying that I'm not sure there could be a relationship, at least in the world of local high school sports, that better lives up to the definition of symbiosis. Since it became a joint program in the fall of 2001, the student athletes from East Juniata and Midd-West have truly blended into one team, so much so that for most of its existence the joint effort has used as its home field the Beaver Springs site that once was home to West Snyder soccer, and the names of both schools have been announced instead of just the host of the cooperative, East Juniata.
The East Juniata/Midd-West Tigers still struggle to win games, but have qualified and competed in the District 4 Class AAA tournament. The team has given young men from both schools the opportunity to play the game, something the Midd-West kids wouldn't have in their own district.
Opportunity. That's the justification East Juniata families have put forth to keep this one as-is while more cooperatives take place between the county's two high schools.
It's not the strongest argument - more on that in a moment - but there's also the loyalty issue: As the Juniata County school's contribution in numbers has dwindled, Midd-West has stayed there and kept that opportunity alive for East Juniata, an opportunity that the original Tigers first made possible for the tiny number of Middleburg and West Snyder athletes who were first to cross the mountain when their schools offered only futbol, but no football.
It's fair to say that East Juniata would make up about the same percentage of a co-op with Juniata as it does with Midd-West - there would be roughly 60 kids either way; a bit more than a third would be from East Juniata - so it's questionable how much greater the opportunity would be one way or the other.
Naysayers predicted gloom and doom if the two Juniata County schools combined their sports, a forecast that has yet to come to fruition as field hockey becomes the fourth this fall; the same dire lament failed to pan out for those who objected to the full merger that formed Midd-West.
At the same time, it's fair to say that Juniata brushed off its intracounty rival through their past playing history, and there are still hard feelings in Cocolamus over the treatment the Tigers received at the hands of the Indians.
Midd-West needs East Juniata to satisfy the gridiron craving of its youngsters, whose future interest level is high if the turnout for the Mustangs' Central Keystone youth teams is any indicator. The two closest schools - Selinsgrove and Mifflinburg - are unlikely to take on a co-op partner that not only will push their program to Class AAAA (and thus out of District 4 for playoff purposes), but also one that is so close in population to the cutoff point for a cooperative under PIAA rules (if Midd-West gains half a dozen boys, it can not partner with another large school).
My friend at Midd-West agrees it would be beneficial - although financially difficult - to establish a new team. The cost could run well into six figures - hard to justify when taxes are going up and costs are predicted to keep spiraling - and the team would be obligated to play in the meat grinder that is the Heartland Conference Division I.
There's widespread belief that part of new Juniata County athletic director Steve Dreibelbis' job is to make the two football programs one. Rather than fight the inevitable, embrace it.
I've said this before: There is an easy solution that benefits all involved. Put all three schools together, at East Juniata, as a single team. Under cooperative rules, they will form a Class AAA program; the relatively central location benefits all.
Makes sense to me.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.