A small shift in policy has led to a large amount of success in Cooperstown sports this season.
The Cooperstown Central School District loosened its standards for allowing junior high athletes to test up to play at high school levels last year. The policy, which had kept junior high kids from testing up in contact sports, had been controversial and often debated, but was typical of larger schools.
Allowing junior high athletes to be evaluated and moved up for all varsity sports led to dramatic success for several Hawkeyes this school year.
T.J. O’Connor, a seventh grader at Milford Central School who wrestles for CCS, went 45-6 in his first season and made the state wrestling tournament at 99 pounds. He won a Center State Conference title, placed in Class D tournament and the state qualifier and went 2-2 at the state tournament.
Eighth grader Bradley Weldon won a Section III Class C-2 boys tennis title in second doubles. Weldon and sophomore Lindsey Trosset were only the second all-girls duo to win a boys tennis title in Section III history, and Cooperstown won a team section title in the sport, too. Weldon and Trosset made the state qualifier and went 1-1.
Eighth grader Meagan Schuermann made all-conference second team in girls basketball and started most of the season, helping Cooperstown to a Section III Class C title in girls basketball. She also played junior varsity soccer, filling in at goalie on varsity for one game in the fall.
Eighth grader Danielle Seamon was a starter all season for the varsity softball team, playing third base and helping the team to a division title. She also moved up to play junior varsity soccer and basketball.
“The thing is, and parents sometimes don’t understand this, is the athlete has to be exceptional,” Cooperstown Athletic Director Dave Bertram said. “It really just depends on the kid.”
Bertram said until this year, Cooperstown had a policy stricter than the state policy, which allows athletes to play up if they pass an evaluation that makes sure they are socially mature enough, athletically ready and not in danger academically of being left back. The state discourages athletes playing up simply to fill out rosters, a practice sometimes allowed at smaller schools.
“We’ve opened it up more. It used to be more restrictive,” Bertram said, but, “I don’t think it is totally different. I think we are following New York state policy.”
The reaction to the change has been positive, for more reasons than the in-game success.
“I think it’s important that the school made the adjustment we did,” girls varsity basketball coach Mike Niles said. “I’m glad we are prepared to provide opportunities for athletes that can compete and contribute at higher levels.
“I think that this year’s successes will be looked at as exceptional, in terms of middle schoolers on varsity, but I’m glad the school is now equipped to provide for those instances,” he continued.
“I don’t think we would have won the section title without Meagan,” said senior girls basketball captain Kate Trosset. “It is clear she should have been there.”
Toward the end of the season, Trosset made a Twitter post saying Schuermann was going to break records in her Cooperstown career.
“I am glad I sent that tweet,” she said. “I’d send it again. Meagan is going to break records. I am glad I was able to play with Meagan. I am glad we got to play with Bradley. I don’t play softball anymore ... but I have heard how great Dani has been from my friends. They are all going to break so many records.
“It has been so nice to be around the younger kids,” she continued, “and not just athletically. As a team, you spend so much time together. You also just learn to be a good kid.”
All of the young Cooperstown athletes were successful in their sports at other levels before getting into the school programs. O’Connor wrestled for a club team, Gorilla Grapplers. Weldon played in tournaments for Cooperstown Tennis and elsewhere, and in summer leagues. Schuermann and Seamon played in spring and summer travel leagues in all of their sports.
“I had already played with Kate in the summer,” Weldon said. “I had played with Lindsey. I played with my brothers. I don’t know if I felt like I was exceptional, but once I started (playing varsity), everyone on the team was so encouraging and let me know I had a spot there.
“I think it has been nice playing with them,” she continued. “You actually get to be around your role model rather than just having a role model. They have already been good leaders. It (gives) you an example of what is to come.”
Bertram, like Niles, said he does not know if this year’s group of junior high athletes can be duplicated. But there are exceptions everyone is aware of, he said. Weldon’s younger brother, Gunter, is only in fifth grade but he can already beat some of the varsity players in tennis. And there are phenoms in soccer and swimming on Bertram’s radar for the fall.
“The biggest thing is what is in the best interest of the kid,” Bertram said. “You don’t want to be holding anyone back.”