Knights errant

EHS baseball survives to fight another day

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Shelly Gray speaks before the Warren County school board regarding the future of the Eisenhower High School baseball team. Students who have signed up for the team — well over the nine that had signed up prior to the late February committee meetings — attended the meeting and spoke regarding their desire to play for their home team.

The vote regarding the end of the Eisenhower High School baseball program never happened.

At the time of the Warren County school board’s February committee meetings, there were barely enough students — nine, maybe ten — signed up to field a team, let alone satisfy the pitching needs of a PIAA high school program.

The athletics committee acted swiftly to pave the way to create a co-op so the players who wanted to play would have the opportunity. On the agenda for Monday’s meeting of the full board were items that would dissolve the unused baseball co-op between Sheffield and Warren, and create a new one between Eisenhower and Warren. Warren Area High School was the only district school with a program whose PIAA classification would not be changed by adding Eisenhower. On short notice, it was the only option.

On Monday, 14 Knights stood before the school board ready to represent their school.

Before visitors were even invited to come to the podium and speak, Superintendent Amy Stewart, based on new information about the number of students interested in playing, recommended that the board pull the items related to Eisenhower baseball.

She also presented some proposals that she said would hopefully avoid similar, last-minute rallies to save programs that, perhaps, should not be saved.

“Work on a revised set of criteria to establish minimum numbers to field a team, to be on probation, and to field a team appropriately…” Stewart said. “At this point, there is no such set of numbers to determine if a sport cannot move forward due to the numbers being so low they cannot field a team. Those numbers need to be clearly communicated.”

The district’s athletic program currently assumes participation. “We are functioning in a system where we assume a program will have enough interest, we staff that program and then wait to see if enough students show up to participate,” Stewart said. “This is no longer working and it puts unnecessary pressure on students to participate/save a sport or program.”

According to Stewart, the former coach, the athletic director, and school administrators worked to encourage “any interested students to sign up.” Only after all of those efforts did school officials take the issue to the board.

Stewart proposed an earlier sign-up procedure, like the one used to schedule classes.

“Students would sign up earlier and indicate they would like to participate in a sport,” Stewart said. “They would sign up on-line approximately one month prior to the first day of the season. This will give us the opportunity to see the sign-up numbers and determine if there is enough interest.”

Decisions about the future of the program in question would be made “at the board meeting prior to the first day of practice,” she said. “This would accomplish one of my goals, and that is to make sure students are not put in a position of feeling like they have to participate in order to ‘save’ a team.”

“We know for a fact that there are boys signed up that would have preferred to not play baseball…” she said.

She did not cast blame in any particular direction. “The overall situation itself creates pressure that squarely rests on the shoulders of these kids,” she said. “That is not something that I view as positive, and I have a strong desire to make sure this does not happen again.”

During public comment, the players came to the microphone, telling the board how long they had played, at what level, and what positions they feel comfortable playing. Each said, “I was not pressured to play baseball by anyone. I really want to play for my school.”

Shelly Gray spoke for the program. “These boys just told you they have played before,” she said. “They are not being forced. They are not being coerced.”

She thanked Stewart for her recommendation that the changes be removed from the agenda.

She complained about how the situation came to pass.

“One of your policies… talks about communication with the parents,” Gray said. “We found out through the newspaper what was going on. We received text messages from our children that very day.”

The co-op did not materialize, but it was the right plan for the circumstances as they stood two weeks ago, according to board and administrators.

“This was a situation that grew on its own and we were left dealing with the information that we had,” Marcy Morgan said.

The important thing is to provide the “opportunity to play a sport that you absolutely love no matter what,” Elizabeth Huffman said.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” Paul Mangione said. “We want to find that workable solution that works for everybody.”

Stewart and Mangione encouraged people to support coaches.

“Disagreements about who should coach, how they should coach, playing time, position assignment, and overall practice and game strategy are turning into attacks on character which cause coaches to resign and/or rethink their desire to put themselves in that position,” Stewart said. “We are finding ourselves posting coaching positions multiple times. If we continue to beat up our coaches instead of supporting them, we are headed down the wrong road.”

“You have to rally around these coaches,” Mangione said. “We have to start building programs. We can’t have a new coach every two years.”

“We need people committed to it,” he said. “We hear it. We see it. Now let’s go out and do it.”

The board also encouraged the public to be as vocal on issues of education as it has proven to be on issues of athletics.

“I commend all of you for being this involved and caring enough to show up,” Mary Passinger said. “I love seeing the community backing anything that has to do with their school. I would like to see this kind of commitment when we’re cutting academic programs.”

“It is nice to also have the support when we are cutting teachers and aides,” Huffman said.