Union boys’ soccer looking to form stand-alone team

Sharing agreement with Hudson terminated

Union junior Brock Ruzicka – a member of the 2021-2022 Hudson United boys’ varsity soccer team – presents a list of signatures to members of the Union Board of Education and Union Superintendent John Howard (right) on Oct. 17 at LPC Elementary. Members pictured include (l-r) Maureen Hanson, Lindsay Pipho, Brandon Paine, and Ben Schemmel. Board president Corey Lorenzen – also present for the meeting – is just off frame. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Following the news that Union High School boys’ soccer sharing agreement with Hudson had landed on the chopping block, the possibility of starting a stand-alone Knights’ team was a hot topic of discussion at the most recent school board meeting.

The sharing agreement – in place since at least 2006 – was ended recently by Class 2A Hudson in order to drop a class to 1A, according to Union Supt. John Howard who briefly introduced the topic during the board meeting held on October 17 in La Porte City.

Hudson’s decision, Howard said, was more than likely motivated by a desire to increase the Pirates’ ability to qualify for the state tournament. Last season, Hudson United (9-8) made it to the second round of 2A substate before losing to Xavier High School.

Following Howard’s comments, Union junior Brock Ruzicka – one of two Union players on the Hudson United team last year – spoke to the board about the possibility of starting a Junior Varsity boys’ team at Union for the 2022-2023 season as the deadline to start a Varsity team has lapsed.

“I’m speaking on behalf of all the boys in the high school right now,” Ruzicka began. “About two months ago, [Union Athletic Director] Michael Bruns came up to me and told me that Hudson was about to kick us out, so we need to figure out a way of having a boys’ soccer team. My best opinion – and what I told [Bruns] – if they’re going to kick us out, let’s have our own team.”

Ruzicka told the board that in just three days’ time, he had managed to cultivate a signature list of 12 Union high school boys expressing an interest in playing on a Union junior varsity soccer team as long as it was a non-sharing team.

“[Finding] players won’t be a problem,” Ruzicka said. “Like Mr. Howard said, we would only have a J.V. which, in my opinion, I think is a great idea because we’ve only had two guys play soccer in the last year or two.”

Ruzicka went on to say that starting with a junior varsity team-only for the upcoming season would allow new players to experience the sport at a less competitive level which would hopefully help to grow the fledgling program.

Ruzicka also highlighted the fact that Union already has a girls’ varsity soccer program – a program which is shared with neighboring North Tama – which means the facilities for a boys’ team, including both competition and practice fields, already exist.

In a subsequent interview with the Telegraph, A.D. Bruns confirmed much of what was discussed during the Oct. 17 board meeting while also adding some nuance to the decision to drop the sharing agreement on Hudson’s part.

“Hudson dropped our sharing agreement due to receiving low numbers from us for a couple of years in a row,” Bruns said in an email interview. “With [Union’s] numbers, they bump from 1A to 2A. So, without receiving much help from Union, they felt it was no longer worth it to them to continue the agreement.”

A survey was conducted by Union during the 2005-2006 school year seeking input on a stand-alone boys’ soccer program much like the program being discussed currently. But the response received at that time did not justify starting such a program, Bruns said – there was, however, enough interest to share with Hudson.

Financial considerations were also brought up by Ruzicka and members of the board during the meeting. According to Bruns, the cost to start a new boys’ program would be “minimal due to having most of the equipment already.”

“If the boys program would work,” Bruns said, “we would build their equipment needs into our athletic budget as with all other sports. We essentially would need to pay a coach’s salary – potentially a head and assistant based on numbers – purchase uniforms, and cover the cost of officials.”

The possiblity of sharing the boys’ program with Class 3A Waterloo West was a further topic of discussion by the school board – such an agreement had already been discussed with the Waterloo school district, Howard told the board, and was a possible option.

During the 2021-2022 season, Waterloo West (11-6) advanced to the second round of Class 3A substate before losing to Cedar Falls, 4-2.

All other school districts Union reached out to regarding a possible sharing agreement were not interested at this time, Bruns told the Telegraph.

“If we would start our own program we would have more serious conversations with North Tama in regards to sharing for boys as we do with girls,” Bruns added.

North Tama currently does not field a boys’ soccer team, stand-alone or otherwise.

Next steps

Prior to the November school board meeting which is set for Monday, November 21, Bruns told the Telegraph his next step as A.D. would be to determine official player numbers in order to decide if starting a stand-alone program was indeed a viable option as Ruzicka’s presentation indicated.

“Once I have all of the information gathered and am ready to do so, I will make my recommendation to the school board on whether to move forward with our own program or to join a cooperative sharing agreement with a different school,” Bruns said.

Such a decision will then be in the hands of members of the Union school board.