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School board sidesteps sports consolidation

Times Observer file photo by Andy Close Eisenhower softball was one of the programs that was part of a consolidation plan, beginning in the 2020-21 academic year. Students from Eisenhower who play softball would be part of Youngsville’s program starting that season, one of several sports that are being considered to be consolidated by the Warren County school board. The board did not move forward with the recommendation, but will send it back to the Athletics and Extracurricular Activities Committee for further discussion.

The Warren County School District Board of Directors unanimously decided against moving forward with a proposed sports merger during Monday’s regular meeting.

Citing a desire to learn more about why participation is dropping, the board chose to send the issue back to the Personnel, Athletics and Co-Curricular Activities committee.

“I think we need to take it back to committee and reevaluate,” board member Joe Colosimo said.

Colosimo moved that the proposal is taken off the agenda.

“At this time, I cannot support (the proposal) and I won’t vote for it,” board member Marcy Morgan said.

“I think we need to look at it closer,” board member Mary Passinger added. “Rather than hastily voting, we need to be able to defend what we’re doing.”

The proposal, as written, would merge the Eisenhower and Youngsville football, boys and girls cross country, wrestling, baseball and softball programs. Eisenhower would host football, wrestling and baseball, with Youngsville hosting boys and girls cross country and softball. Cross country and wrestling would merge beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, while football, baseball, and softball would begin their co-op in the 2020-2021 year due to changes in classification levels. The current Youngsville-Warren football co-op would remain in place until the 2020 season. The projected savings implemented over the two year period would be $38,160.

Three community members spoke about the proposal during the public comment section, all were opposed.

Current Youngsville softball coach, Scott Ishman, asked that if the board were to proceed, they do so immediately instead of waiting for the next classification cycle.

“I understand it’s a tough situation,” he said. “It’s tough on the kids. Holding off is going to be tougher on the kids.”

Youngsville wrestling coach Paul Clough made an impassioned plea that the board finds a way to proceed without merging any teams.

“We see high school athletics with blinders on,” Clough said. “We think the kids (today) want what we wanted. For every kid that wants to be at states, there is a dozen with less lofty goals. The intent of the PIAA co-op (system) is to provide opportunity. This move is taking the opportunity away.

“There is no reason sports need to be (merged) at this time,” he continued. “You were voted into your positions to represent four (attendance areas), not just two.”

Sheffield wrestling’s Tom Holden suggested forming a council.

“I do not see any winners in a co-op situation,” Holden said. “We need to put a council together and find out why numbers are low. We need to work together.”

During the discussion about how to proceed with the proposal, several board members echoed the public comments.

“I agree we are taking away opportunities,” Morgan said. “As it stands now, I cannot support it.”

Board member Art Stewart, who proposed forming a committee to determine why marching band numbers are dropping, took a similar approach to sports.

“For every one student participating today, we used to have four,” Stewart said. “I don’t think the public understands or are grasping the entirety of the problem.”

Stewart went on to say that the most important concern is for student safety, but the lack of public understanding limits the board’s options.

“We know we’re sliding downhill,” he said. “Yet we’re checkmated by the public.”

Colosimo stressed he didn’t want to see students lose opportunities because a program is forced to shut down.

“People need to understand the gravity of a forced termination instead of a voluntary co-op,” he said.

The board then voted unanimously not to move forward with the proposal.

“I think we need to continue to study the co-op as an alternative to a forced shutdown,” Stewart said as he moved to send the issue back to committee.

“We’re trying to be proactive versus trying to force someone’s hand,” board member Paul Mangione said.