After flirting with the possibility in recent years, the Rio football program could be teaming up with one of its biggest rivals.
The Rio Board of Education recently voted to co-op with Fall River for football starting with the 2019 season at the board’s meeting on Nov. 26. While approved by Rio, the co-op is not official until both Fall River and the Trailways Conference approve the merger.
The Fall River Board of Education will hold its vote on Dec. 19, while the Trailways Conference will vote to accept the co-op in January. If both votes pass, the official paperwork for the new co-op program will be filed with the WIAA by Feb. 1.
If approved, the co-op will play Fall River’s schedule for the 2019 season and be the largest program in the Trailways Small by enrollment, with the 256 students (split almost equally) between the two schools. Both Rio athletic director Jared Napralla and Fall River athletic director Cody Schultz declined to comment until the co-op fully passes.
This isn’t the first time Rio has thought about a co-op venture. After finishing the 2015 season with just 14 players, then Rio athletic director Dana Tait gauged students’ interest about numbers for the upcoming 2016 season.
Player safety was the main source of concern after the Vikings suffered a number of injuries throughout the 4-6 campaign. Twenty-four students signed up to participate in football the upcoming year and a resounding number voted to remain an 11-man program as opposed to playing eight-man football or pursuing a co-op program.
While the Rio School Board followed suit in its approval to remain an 11-man program, it put in some parameters. The board said the Vikings needed to have 18 healthy and eligible players to begin the 2016 season, and also that should that number dip below 14 during the season, the Vikings would have to forfeit the remainder of their games.
Rio played all of its games that season and has not forfeited a game in each of the last two years, which included a 3-6 campaign this fall. Still, dropping numbers have hurt a Vikings program that was recently one of the Trailways Small’s top teams.
The Vikings made the playoffs for a decade straight from 2006-2015, making it to the second round of the WIAA playoffs three times (2007, 2009, 2010). Rio never finished below fourth in the league during that stretch, including one conference title in 2008 and four runner-up finishes.
Since then, however, Rio has yet to get back to the postseason. The move, should it pass, will likely help end that slump. Fall River has won at least a share of each of the last two Trailways Small titles and made the playoffs each of the last three seasons, including a Division 7 semifinal appearance in 2017.