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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

Will ax fall on school sports?
NYSHSAA to decide on cutting contests

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

The number of games played by high school teams may be reduced across the state, depending on a vote this weekend by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

As school districts face unprecedented cuts in state aid, local athletic directors have varying views on the issue.

“My personal preference would be, as a school district, we handle our own budget cuts,” said Voorheesville’s athletic director, Joseph Sapienza. “A statewide proposal doesn’t take individual school differences into account.”

Cuts he outlined for Voorheesville, a small suburban district in the Colonial Council, “are designed to maintain the structure of each sport,” Sapienza said.

His counterpart at rural Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Fred Marcil, said, “I think we all have to recognize we have to give up something. Our district has to cut quite a bit. We [in athletics] have to do our part. If the association does it across the board, it will level the playing field.”

“Athletic directors in our league,” Marcil said of the Western Athletic Conference, “thought it wouldn’t be fair to cut other areas and not cut sports at all…We’ve had preliminary discussions on cutting back non-league games.”

He went on, “We’re hoping not to cut any teams, but we’re preparing for the worst… We don’t want to lose modified or varsity sports,” he said of those in his conference, “but if worst came to worst, smaller schools often have trouble filling JV teams and we might scale back there.”

“I don’t want to see games cut,” said Guilderland’s physical education and athletic director, Wayne Bertrand. “I think there will be a negative impact on kids. However, there’s a bigger picture we have to look at…Schools will have to make difficult decisions.”

If school districts were to act individually in making athletic cuts, Bertrand said, “It would create imbalances amongst teams within the league and the section.” Guilderland, a large suburban district, is in the Suburban Council.

Bertrand pointed out other parts of the state where section-wide cuts to games have been made. “Everybody is on the same page with it,” he said.

Bertrand also said he would like to see Guilderland “cut a little bit from everybody” rather than eliminate a team altogether. “It would be easy to pick a small sport without a lot of kids,” he said, “but that sport is important to the kids on that team. We’ve got a gymnastics team with 14 kids and that team is just as important to them as football is to somebody else.”

View from NYPHSAA

The proposal to reduce the maximum number of permitted games came about, according to Nina Van Erk, the executive director of the New York Public High School Athletic Association, as one of 13 recommendations unanimously made by the association’s Fiscal Concerns Committee.

The association’s executive committee will discuss the recommendations this weekend, she said. The association is made up of member schools divided geographically into 11 different sections; each section has two representatives on the executive committee, Van Erk said.

Voorheesville, BKW, and Guilderland are in Section 2, represented by Glenn Westfall and Lynn Hemstead.

The resolution getting the most attention is the one to cut the maximum number of contests. Sports with 24 contests now, like softball, would be cut to 20; sports with 20 contests now, like basketball, would be cut to 18; sports with 18 contests like soccer, would be cut to 16; wrestling would be cut to 19 points or five tournaments; and football would be reduced by one game. Junior varsity and freshmen programs would be reduced by two additional contests and the modified program would be reduced by two contests.

The other dozen recommendations have largely to do with how the association runs, such as using conference calls to reduce travel or using officials from host sections, and also to do with changing championships — reducing participants, classes, and divisions, and holding the events in central locations.

“The 13 recommendations are more than likely going to be discussed individually,” said Van Erk. “For each of the 13 items, there might be action to approve or disapprove or to modify.” She declined to predict what the outcome might be, but did say blogs were posting much inaccurate information.

The number of games set by the association is binding on its member schools. Describing the committee’s reasoning for reducing the maximum numbers, Van Erk said, “Generally, it’s a 10-percent reduction in contests across the board…with the intention of saving lower-level programs and other sports within the program.”

She went on, “High school athletic programs are different than any other school-based program because they rely heavily on the cooperation of other school districts for their success.”

She gave the example of a league with 10 districts where three districts cut modified programs and two cut junior varsity programs. “It doesn’t leave the other schools teams to play,” said Van Erk.

Some sections in the state, including two on Long Island, have already reduced the number of games. “Anyone can make our rules more restrictive,” she said.

Asked if, once games were cut by the association, it was likely they would be restored, Van Erk said, “We would hope to have a start and end date,” so the new requirements, if passed, can be reviewed.

Asked how much money would be saved by a 10-percent cut in games, Van Erk replied that, as a former athletic director herself, she was confident it would be substantial. She opened an e-mail as she talked from an athletic director who said it would save his school $34,000 annually. Van Erk added that a Capital Region school district estimated that it would save $20,000. “That did not include supervisory costs or time keepers, or chaperones,” said Van Erk.

Shared passion

All three local athletic directors were adamant about the value of sports to educational programs.

“A strong athletic program complements the entire educational process,” said Voorheesville’s Sapienza. “Students learn life lessons from sports.”

“School sports teach kids to work together,” said BKW’s Marcil. “Sports teach perseverance, develop work ethic and sportsmanship, and teach kids how to be fair.”

He said a dozen student athletes had recently been to a leadership conference where the keynote speaker, a successful businessman and one-time high school athlete, said that “the daily things you do in sports make you a more responsible person, driven to be successful.”

“Our data has shown that, while kids are engaged in athletics, there is a definite correlation to higher achievement in education,” said Marcil.

Students at BKW can’t play sports if they have failed two or more classes, he said. Fewer kids are on the ineligibility list when they are involved in sports. “While kids are on a team, they’re more motivated to keep up with their studies,” he said.

Marcil himself played volleyball, basketball, and was on the track and field team at his high school.

“I realize there has to be a balance between academics and sports,” he said. “I certainly value both.”

Marcil concluded, “Our most successful coaches develop young men and women to work hard and take sports seriously, to work together.”

Bertrand, who had worked at Ballston Spa, said he’d never forget what he learned from a superintendent there, Dr. Roger Gorham.

Gorham had been a college athlete and he told the students at a Ballston Spa athletic banquet, “We go to school and have teachers and classes. I don’t remember who was with me in biology class or what I scored on a social studies test. But I always remember the teams I was on and certain games I played in. That’s what we all talk about when we go to reunions.”

Bertrand concluded, “Sports bond kids and bond communities. I will go to my grave believing that.”

Jo E. Prout contributed Joseph Sapienza’s quote from Monday’s Voorheesville School Board meeting, where she learned of the NYSPHSAA proposal.

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