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Safety concern leads to Bills, Colts merger

Pending league approval, Jeff Heim and the Springville Bills will merge with the Springville Colts and become the Griffins. Photo by Dave DeLuca.
The Springville community has come to know its little league football program sporting two teams -- the orange and black of the Springville Colts and the baby blue and white of the Springville Bills.

This coming season, that will change.

The decision to merge the teams together and become the Springville Griffins was approved by the Springville Little League Football Board on July 13, with the voters including football and cheerleading coaches, as well as the league’s Board of Directors.

“I think it’s really excited for the community to come together,” league president Kelly Baker said. “I’m excited to see it build the community and make Springville better. It will bring families together and promote the comradery between the football players.”

An entire statement from the Springville Little League can be found on its website,

The Board will now present its merger to the Cattaraugus County Midget Football League to be approved on July 29. Baker & Co. are confident that the merger will be approved by the CCMFL and the league will understand that the Springville Little League has been struggling the last few years, numbers wise. Teams have been forced to play with insufficient depth and rely on younger players to step into much larger roles.

Before the merger was approved, the pee wee Bills and Colts each had 17 players signed up, and of those 17 players, each team had six 7-year-olds. A team’s roster also may look much different at season’s end than before the season due to injuries and players that have a change of heart and decide not to play. Last season the pee wee Colts suffered two injuries in their playoff game that forced the team to play with just 11 healthy players.

The Springville Bills midget team had just 11 players sign up this year and that wouldn’t have been enough to have a team.

“We had parents that refused to sign their kids up because it was going to be unsafe,” Baker said. “

Now, Springville’s midget team will have a roster of 28 and the pee wee team will have 37 players. The depth will help the teams be more successful and safe.

“No. 1 is safety,” Baker. said. “Instead of a 7-year-old having to play every down on offense, defense and special teams, they’re going to get the breaks they need. They’re going to learn proper technique. They’re going to actually practice hitting another person. In those drills, that’s important stuff. If a team can’t have contact in practice because of numbers, you can’t expect a kid to do it properly in a game.”

Safety has been a popular topic of late in little league football. The program, Heads Up Football, has been created to instruct and promote proper tackling to limit concussions and head injuries. More coaches and more depth on rosters helps Heads Up Football in Springville.

The merger of the teams will assist to erase the conflict between the two teams, who have been noted rivals for years. The Bills and Colts used to play each other once every three years. Recently, the teams started playing annually. Although the rivalry had tradition on its side, it had a role in separating friend groups and caused conflict among Springville football players.

“The rivalry has run its course,” Baker said. “It’s caused a lot of tension over the years. ‘Hey, he’s a Bill. Hey, he’s a Colt’. That just has to stop. Now they’re going to put their energy to helping one another, rather than tearing each other down.”

Merging aids the Springville Little League in vertically aligning itself with Springville’s varsity program. Springville students have been split between the Bills and Colts, but also between Springville-GI’s modified team and even some Springville students have joined the Boston Patriots. Having so many teams has disrupted the varsity team’s efforts to being on the same page with the little league.

“Lets be honest, we’re pulling on the same rope from four different directions,” Springville-GI varsity coach Rob Valenti said. “It’s not a good thing to have. Everyone is destined with their own interests. You want to see your program thrive and that’s totally reasonable. But, I think looking bigger picture, we want to see our varsity team competing for championships year in, year out. This merger goes a long way in heading us in the right direction”

The vertical alignment will help build togetherness within the team and give kids consistency from the pee wee level to varsity.

“Not only will it strength the little league program numbers wise, it’s going to make our school program better,” Valenti said. “I think kids wearing purple and gold, having G’s on their helmet and calling themselves the Griffs from 7 years old to 18 can go a long way to building a football community.”

New purple and gold uniforms will be purchased for both the football and cheerleading teams and the Springville Little League will provide jerseys for families that can not afford them. The League recently purchased nearly $14,000 worth of new shoulder pads and helmets.

Uniforms will look the same. Players will come together. Coaches from the Bills and Colts will join together. Parents will sit on the same side of the bleachers.

For the first time in a long time, it’s one town, one team.

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