FOXBURG - When the Allegheny-Clarion Valley and Union School districts entered into a football co-op in 2016, it was just the football teams that combined but now one A-C Valley resident would like to see one of the mainstays of Friday night football games merge as well.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Mike Weigle requested ACV consider merging the districts' respective marching bands into a true co-op.

Weigle pointed out the A-C Valley marching band had only 12 members this year and due to a variety of circumstances (illness, quarantine, vacations, etc.) A-C Valley was only able to perform a couple of times at halftime.

Weigle also mentioned the A-C Valley marching band was not able to perform at any of the three Union/A-C Valley football playoff games.

Moreover, Weigle said when the band was able to perform at football halftimes or the Autumn Leaf Festival parade; they were mocked because of their limited numbers.

Weigle said he had heard rumors in the past that the Union marching band had reached out about forming a marching band co-op with A-C Valley but was rebuffed. Weigle said after having conversations with Union Marching Band Director Lisa Hummell and Union Superintendent Dr. John Kimmel that those rumors were true.

Weigle also went on to say Hummell and Kimmel are open to discussions about forming a band co-op.

The districts entered into a "coordination of bands" when they entered into the football co-op. According to the coordination of bands agreement, both the Union and A-C Valley marching bands are allowed to perform together in the stands but are not allowed to march together during halftime shows.

A-C Valley Marching Band Director Dr. Scott DiTullio, who was not present at the meeting, responded via email that football game performances are only a small part of what the A-C Valley marching band does.

"The A-C Valley marching band just doesn't do football games," DiTullio said. "We have traditionally participated in several marching band festivals, college band days, and several parades which all have provided our students with many extra opportunities. Due to schedules, travel, and the true practice needed to create a performance we have kept the bands separated."

A-C Valley Superintendent Dr. David McDeavitt said the coordination of bands was originally entered into by the districts when the football co-op was formed and has been updated. McDeavitt said the current agreement is for three years and is in place until 2024.

However, McDeavitt said the coordination of bands could be altered if both he and Kimmel can come to an agreement.

DiTullio said the subject of joining the bands together has been a topic of discussion previously.

"There has been a very brief discussion (regarding combining the bands) in the past," DiTullio said. "The discussion did not lead in any direction. We have followed the coordination of bands agreement that exists."

DiTullio also believes current circumstances have also made it a struggle to keep the bands numbers up.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has perpetuated problems for many schools across the country and the performing arts," DiTullio said. "The overall numbers of students participating (in the arts) has declined. In our smaller schools, it seems to have hit even more significantly."

DiTullio said dealing with the COVID-19 mitigation efforts was also a challenge.

"We have been using masks and bell covers every day and maintaining social distancing," DiTullio said. "Last year the guidance was to only play for 30 minutes and vacate the area. We did this throughout the school year. The current recommendation is to be able to utilize an entire period and still use a mask and bell cover and we do this daily.

"Performances took a hit as well, last year we created a virtual performance for the high school bands. No, this isn't the same as an in-person performance, but we did the best we could to follow all the recommendations.

"Some schools across the country and in our state did not have any music taking place, so I am thankful we fought through."

The challenge of playing a musical instrument also plays into the marching band's small numbers, according to DiTullio.

"We are constantly recruiting students for everything we do and playing an instrument isn't easy," DiTullio said. "It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to be successful. Not all students want to put in the work it takes, as they think there should be an instant success.

"Unfortunately, this also turns some students away from music. At A-C Valley our students are persevering. They are going out and putting their best efforts on the stage/field each time. They haven't given up, but have worked harder to better each rehearsal and performance.

"To help our students get back into musical excellence, we reinstated the high school band lesson program. Those students who continuously come to lessons and put in the extra time outside of class are getting better each week.

"Those students not putting in any extra time outside of class or participating in lessons are unfortunately still struggling. We continue to make every effort to help all of our students be successful. The A-C Valley High School bands have a vigorous performance schedule, from marching band and into our yearly concerts; A Salute to Veterans, Christmas concert, small ensembles concert, jazz band concert, jazz band festival and a spring concert."

With all the challenges his band is facing, DiTullio hasn't given up hope.

"There is no doubt bands look different everywhere and we will all get through this hiccup we are faced with," DiTullio said. "No, it might not happen tomorrow, but we will rebuild our programs."

Band parent Kristie Shaffer also spoke during the public comment period and she felt the time constraints put on the marching band performers would

"It takes 30 minutes (to get to the Union High School from A-C Valley), so if you have an afterschool practice, it takes the kids to get 10 minutes to get down to the band room, 10 minutes to load the van (with their instruments), and 10 minutes to get on the and off the bus and make sure they have their stuff so that is an hour of practice wasted," Shaffer said. "Is the practice time going to be extended? If you extend that time, parents are going to be mad their kids are coming home at eight or nine o'clock because you can't just pick them up like the football players or the cheerleaders.

"The band kids have to ride the bus back and unload the van."

Shaffer is also concerned about the financial burden of the bands forming a co-op.

"Who is going to buy all the new uniforms and new rain jackets?" Shaffer said. "If this co-op is formed, you are going to have to buy uniforms for 120 kids and 20 color guard members. The estimate is $200,000."

Weigle took issue with Shaffer's estimate.

"Thirty-two plus eight is 40 (members) not 120," Weigle said.

"Shaffer responded, "You have to double those numbers because you have to make sure you have to have the correct sized uniforms and you have to have replacements in case anything happens to the uniforms. Do you really expect these two school boards to pay the $200,000?"

Weigle responded, "They've done it for every other sport."

Shaffer is also concerned with what happens if the football co-op is dissolved in a few years. She reminded the board that the A-C Valley School District was involved in a football co-op with Cranberry a little over 10 years ago that dissolved.


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