Districts want control of Schoburg football

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Colin Kenyon, a Duanesburg senior, stands at the beginning of the March 9 Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board meeting, speaking about the value of the Schoburg football program he has played in. He said he has been awarded a scholarship to play next fall for Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts.

BERNE — On Monday, the school board here earmarked money to put the local volunteer-run football team under the control of the three districts whose students make up its roster.

The plan requires all three districts to pass budgets with the same $25,000 start-up cost in them — Duanesburg and Berne-Knox-Westerlo board members approved the resolution this week, while Schoharie’s school board is expected to vote on March 19. For every year after, football will require a $10,000 budget allocation in each district.

“It’s $25,000 out of a million we threw at our academic problems last year,” BKW board member Vasilios Lefkaditis said, offering his support during the Monday meeting and highlighting a connection between sports participation and academic achievement.

When BKW board members asked their interim superintendent why they faced the choice, and why separately from other budget items, Joe Natale said superintendents want district control of the Schoburg football program, including decisions about recruitment, making sure Section II requirements are met, and ownership of the equipment that protects players. The extra time may be needed to purchase equipment and set up staffing ahead of the fall season, he said.

But Schoburg coaches Ken Meyer and Roger Tidball — who have volunteered their time and expertise, painting the field, raising funds, and coordinating transportation — remain unsure what their roles would be. And school boards across the state remain in the dark about how much money they can expect from the state as they form their 2015-16 spending plans.

“Think about something you’ve done in your life where you put your heart and soul in it for three or four years and all of a sudden it’s just taken from you. That’s the problem, and it’s nothing of your doing,” Tidball, who is also Duanesburg’s town supervisor, said in an interview Wednesday of his potential ouster.

Tidball, the assistant head coach, said the ideal outcome would be to have the three districts, in their annual appointments, continue using the same coaches. Tidball; Meyer; and Gary Morin, a BKW math teacher, were appointed as Schoburg coaches for the recent season, and Tidball said they have the required certifications. But Meyer and Tidball worry, once stipends are given to football coaches, as they are for other school sports, union members would be considered before them.

“That would be the case, in our bargaining unit for teachers here,” said Robert Bonaker, Schoharie’s assistant superintendent for business. “The physical-education teachers have first preference over any coaching position, if they’re qualified.” He added that the current coaches would still be able to apply for the job.

Speaking after Monday night’s school-board meeting, Morin said he thinks bringing the football program under the school’s control is the right thing to do, with mistakes in the oversight of a football program possibly having a high cost. He and Bonaker did not question the performance so far of the volunteer coaches.

In the resolution before the three school boards, the reason for the move is based on the rising level of student participation: “…for the purposes of student health and safety, it’s no longer feasible to operate the program solely on volunteer time and donations,” it says.

Natale said the money would include paying for three varsity coaches and two modified coaches.

The resolution was authorizing the continuation of the football program, as BKW had agreed to join Schoburg for the first time last year. The last time the district had fielded football players was in the 1950s. The approval last year didn’t cost BKW any money.

Then, Schoburg was taking advantage of a rule change by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association that allowed a third school to merge in order to form a team. Schoburg played as a Class C South team against Chatham, Cairo-Durham, Fonda-Fultonville, Coxsackie-Athens, and Taconic Hills. The team was overseen by the Schoharie athletic director.

Some of the BKW students on the roster had played for Meyer on the local Pop Warner Team. Natale said 12 BKW students played on the modified team and six played at the varsity level.

Coaches: If more money is spent on area football, additional coaches should be a top priority, Schoburg coaches Ken Meyer, center, and Roger Tidball, right, told the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board Monday night. As volunteers, the two led a varsity team of students from three districts last season. The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia


Meyer told the board that the current coaches can keep the program going financially, despite the resolution, but, more coaches are needed. In answer to why the boards have to make the budget decision, Meyer said superintendents and athletic directors approached the coaches and asked how much running a football program would cost.

Tidball said the long-term goal had been to have the districts fund Schoburg and form a junior-varsity team.

Fundraising by the players has paid for their equipment and helmets, which each cost more than $200. He estimated that 95 percent of a loan of tens of thousands of dollars from a player’s father has yet to be paid off.

Schoharie, which coordinates spending for the program and acts as its home field, is facing a $350,000 budget gap, using last year’s state aid figures, according to Bonaker. Passing the football resolution would widen the gap.

Berne-Knox-Westerlo is facing a similar need to cut costs or raise revenues, as some of its shared services planned for this year never took place or have to be rolled back.

The BKW board passed the resolution after a long discussion involving parents and coaches in the gallery. Four members voted in favor — Joan Adriance, Vasilios Lefkaditis, Russell Chauvot, and Earl Barcomb — while the fifth, Gerald Larghe, was absent.

“He goes to school to try harder, and he’s also built a solid relationship with his teachers and I think that’s huge,” Heidi Byrne said of her son, who had struggled academically but seen improved grades since playing in sports.

“Parents have talked about moving out of the district, to play football,” said Amie Houck-Burnside.

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