JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears and the Thunder Mountain Falcons will merge into one high school football team next fall after the Juneau School District's request for the action was approved.

The board for the Alaska School Activities Association approved the request in a 4-1 vote on Thursday, KTOO-FM reported . The action will also combine the schools' cheer squads.

The merger was requested because of concerns about safety and participation in the sport, said Bridget Weiss, the district director of student services. Both schools have experienced a decline in the numbers of students signing up for the sport in recent years. As a result, coaches were forced to match younger and less experienced students against teams with older and bigger players, Weiss said.

The schools were also faced with ongoing funding problems that caused both teams to operate at a deficit.

"Once we know what conference we're in, that will give us some information to start formulating what the season is going to look like both fiscally and logistically," Weiss said. "And then we'll move through the process of working with kids and families and coaches in order to put together a plan for the fall."

The joint team will likely bump the district up a division, Weiss said

Citing concerns that the joint team would leave other schools in the region at a disadvantage, board member Andrew Friske was the sole vote against the merger proposal. Friske, a principal at Mount Edgecumbe High School in Stika, said the likely division change for the Juneau team would leave Ketchikan as the only school left in the region in the division.

Of the 20 schools in the southeast Alaska region that provide input on the district's request, Weiss said that only three have football programs. Two of the programs were the Juneau schools.

"And that speaks volumes to how challenging it is to find the capacity to run football out of southeast Alaska," Weiss said.

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Information from: KTOO-FM, http://www.ktoo.org