BETHLEHEM The Bethlehem football team won’t have a home field this season.
While they will have “home” games on their schedule, the Eagles will be playing those on other fields while their football stadium undergoes renovations to its drainage and lighting systems, as well as the surrounding track.
Don’t feel too bad for Bethlehem, though. The Eagles play two home games at Union College, and their third is at the University at Albany’s Bob Ford Field.
“The homes we have are pretty nice,” said Bethlehem coach Rick Leach. “They’re far away, but they’re nice.”
The biggest concern Leach has about playing an entire season off school grounds is how large the crowds will be.
“We’ve always had great crowds, whether we’re winning or losing,” said Leach. “We’ll miss that if we don’t get good crowds (at Union and UAlbany).”
Playing off campus isn’t the only change for Bethlehem football this season. The Eagles are also switching from the Empire Division to the Liberty Division following Niskayuna’s decision to drop down from Class AA to Class A and play an independent schedule.
Leach said the switch will help Bethlehem in terms of travel to divisional games, as their Liberty Division mates are Shaker, LaSalle, Columbia, Colonie and Schenectady.
“The nice thing is, even though we do have to drive to Ballston Spa (for a cross-divisional game), we’re in a division where everyone is closer to us,” said Leach.
The change also means Bethlehem avoids playing Class AA powers such as Shenendehowa, Saratoga and defending Section 2 champion Christian Brothers Academy. However, Leach said the Liberty Division is still tough to navigate.
“In the last three years, I think we’ve played just about everybody (in Class AA), and they’re all tough,” said Leach.
Bethlehem struggled in the Empire Division last season, and it graduated its top two running backs in Mike Graves and Jason Clas. However, the Eagles return many more players from 2013.