As booming indoor track program seeks more coaches, GCSD leaders say: No funds available

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
“People don’t pay attention to track and field as much as they would a football team or a lacrosse team,” Megan Swan told the school board this month. “And I think they should because we are one of the most successful teams at our school and people don’t realize that.”

GUILDERLAND — Guilderland High School indoor track-and-field athletes, parents, and the team’s three coaches urged the school board on Sept. 13 to hire more coaches for the more than 175 students on the team.

School board members were receptive to the plea — and supportive of the team’s all-inclusive policy — but district administrators said there were no funds to be had.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders estimated it would cost $8,000 to $9,000 to hire the three more coaches requested.

“It’s been a difficult year … particularly around tax certioraris,” said Sanders. “Right now is not an optimal time to look for additional ways to fund this.”

In June, the Guilderland school district had paid over $3 million in tax refunds to property owners who had successfully challenged their assessed values, draining the district’s Tax Certiorari Reserve and causing it to borrow.

The indoor track team has over 175 members and the ratio of one coach to about 60 athletes is much higher than for other school teams.

The indoor track-and-field team, which competes in the winter, starting its season on Nov. 14, along with the cross-country team, which is competing now, and the outdoor track-and-field team, which competes in the spring, starting March 13, are unique among the school’s teams in that any student can join — there are no tryouts with subsequent cuts.

Alyssa Gorevich, whose daughter is on the team, said over 100 of the team’s members are girls, which makes it important for meeting federal Title IX requirements of equal access to sports.

She praised the way the team built self-esteem and camaraderie but said it is “difficult for students to improve or develop new skills” because of the scarcity of coaches.

Her daughter, Julia Gorevich, said she had been on the indoor and outdoor teams since seventh grade and is now a sophomore.

“As an athlete, I have always wanted to excel ..,” she said. “While our coaches are great, I do not feel I get enough one-on-one time with the coach.”

Chris Scanlon, who said he feels fortunate to teach physical education at Guilderland and to coach cross-country and track-and-field, also said all of the indoor track-and-field coaches carry a lot of stress because of the number of athletes they supervise.

When one coach is busy with shot-put or pole vault, that leaves another coach with up to 90 athletes to supervise, he said. “It just felt overwhelming,” he said, expressing worry about safety.

For some on the team, this is their first experience with organized sports, he said, noting that athletes don’t have to fight with other athletes for a roster spot. Rather, the sport will “give them all a chance to grow.”

Scanlon said track is unique because, unlike with other school sports, there are no club or recreational teams. “If they can’t do it with us …,” he said, “they can’t do it.”

He also said that the indoor track team is about the same size as the outdoor track team, which has seven full-time coaches compared to only three for indoor track.

Another indoor coach, David Kosier, said that, in his 25 years at Guilderland, he had worked under five “awesome” athletic directors. 

“This isn’t a new problem,” Kosier said, stating that, over the last quarter century, the athletic directors had repeatedly agreed indoor track needed more coaches but always said, “Next year, next year.”

The third indoor coach, Taylor Mead, shared her practice plan with the board members. Mead said she is the only field-event coach and oversees two throwing events and four jumping events — each with different techniques.

“I have to try and be in three places at once,” she said.

Mead told the board, “We’re not here to complain to you that our job is hard. We understand that coaching is difficult. But we’re here to tell you that we need help and that we want to give these kids everything they should get as being part of a school sport — and we just don’t feel that we can do that.”

Marcy Casavant said her son, a hurdler, “has really struggled to get the coaching he needs.” Gesturing to the coaches, Casavant said, “These guys are spread just so incredibly, incredibly thin.”

She also said that, during COVID restrictions, the indoor team practiced outdoors and athletes from other teams that couldn’t play joined the track team. Many of those athletes have stuck with track, she said, “instead of going back to their other sport because it’s such a welcoming positive environment even with only three coaches.”

Senior Megan Swan, who has competed on both the indoor and outdoor teams for five years, said, “Not everyone gets direct attention”; those at a higher level, like herself, get more attention, she said.

Swan described “higher level” members having to help younger athletes at practice, which she said was “not really fair.”

“People don’t pay attention to track and field as much as they would a football team or a lacrosse team,” Swan concluded. “And I think they should because we are one of the most successful teams at our school and people don’t realize that.”

Kevin Burnhart, who has two daughters on the team, urged board members to watch a meet where they would see the coaches “run all over the field.”

Senior Adrian Cummings said of track, “It gives you a ton of different ways to feel better as a person … It’s a lifetime sport that sets you up for healthiness your entire life. It helps you with your mental health; running creates so many endorphins. And it’s truly a team-building sport as well,” he said, noting all the friends he has made through the sport.

Although track meets don’t draw the crowds of some other sports, Cummings said, “Each year, we bring a dozen athletes to nationals, sectionals, states — and we bring home dozens of medals and trophies.”

He concluded more coaches are needed to bring each athlete to the “peak of success.”

Finally, Kelly Person, the school board’s vice president who ran the meeting in the absence of its president, read a letter from track athlete Kristen Barnhart.

Although Barnhart wrote she wasn’t good at running when she started as a seventh-grader, track stole her heart, and she ended up quitting softball to pursue it and has since competed at nationals twice.

“These coaches didn’t just help me, but they help everyone,” she wrote. “No matter how talented you are at the sport, everyone is treated with respect and everyone is cared for and noticed.”

Barnhart also wrote, “I do not want to see our track program have to go to a ‘try out’ based sport. If this had been the case back when I started I would not be where I am today in my track career. Like so many other kids I just needed the chance to learn and be coached.”


Board support

Gloria Towle-Hilt, the board’s longest serving member, said she was discouraged to hear the problem of not enough coaches had been “kicked down the road” and urged a “creative solution.”

She stressed that the no-cut team “really stands for the whole idea of inclusion” and “affects many, many lives.”

“This definitely got past me,” Towle-Hilt conceded. And, while she said it would be number-one on her budget list of priorities for next year, “I hate to see another year go by. How creative can we be?”

“My concern is the disconnect,” said Nathan Sabourin who has served on the board for a year. “This is clearly an issue and I didn’t know about it till now … The cat’s out of the bag on the budget … It’s going to get tougher and tougher in years to come.”

Later he spoke to the coaches sitting in the gallery: “I wish you guys had come to us when we were doing the budget … We’re kind of hamstrung.”

Katie DiPierro, a special-education teacher new to the board this summer, worried that students not able to stay on the team would be special-needs students, which would not support the district’s mission of inclusivity.

Board member Kim Blasiak said that her son Alex, on the autism spectrum, “would not have made any other sport.”

“The first time I saw him run … was hideous,” she said. But now, she went on, “He is an amazing runner. He made varsity. He found his thing.”

Blasiak also described the track program as “well-rounded,” teaching nutrition and mental health as well as the physical aspects of the sport.

Board member Rebecca Butterfield wondered if any of the federal funds the district received to deal with COVID could be used to hire coaches as “social-emotional support.”

“I’ve already looked into that,” Superintendent Marie Wiles responded. “It’s really not an appropriate use of that.”

She went on, “If you recall, we had hardly any additions to the budget.”

The priority of new spending in the $110 million budget, Wiles summarized, was to reduce middle-school class sizes, and just half of that problem was dealt with. The only other addition was two-tenths of a librarian post at Altamont Elementary School, for $13,600, to bring it into parity with the district’s other four elementary schools.

“There was approximately $1.6 million of other requests that didn’t make it to the presentation,” said Wiles.

Scanlon said from the gallery that the coaching need should have been obvious looking at 180 students with just three coaches supervising them. He also called the $3,000 to hire a coach “a drop in the bucket.”

Towle-Hilt asked about setting up a town-wide drive to raise funds for this year to which Blasiak responded that sport booster clubs had looked into that and found the people hired would have to be supervised by a coach, which would negate the purpose.

“It would be helpful to see what was asked for, what was denied,” said Sabourin of budget requests, echoing a recommendation made by board member Blanca Gonzalez-Parker.

“I would still like to request …. Just take a look and see if there’s anything we can do,” said Gonzalez-Parker.

“We can look,” concluded Sanders.

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