Oct 29, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
More than 50 people crowded the high school auditorium last week, all with one purpose: To urge the Cazenovia board of education to return the funding it previously cut to pay for varsity and junior varsity lacrosse assistant coaches. Without these coaches, funding advocates declared, the sport is not only dangerous for the players but could be disastrous for the district’s highly lauded lacrosse program.
“We cannot depend upon volunteer [coaches] to carry our program,” said resident Dave Falge at the school board’s Oct. 21 regular meeting, which was moved from the district office to the high school auditorium because of the large crowd. “The removal of two of our five coaches could be possibly catastrophic [to the program].”
The lacrosse coaching funding issue started back in April, when the school board voted to save $11,000 in the 2012-13 budget by cutting funding for two boys lacrosse assistant coaching positions, one for varsity and one for junior varsity. The change cut the paid lacrosse coaching staff from five to three, making the modified, jv and varsity head coaches the only paid coaching positions in the program.
Because of the anticipated budget shortfalls, the board also eliminated four district positions, two modified basketball teams and the JV girls softball team from the 2013-14 budget.
Voters approved the $26,419,662 budget in a May 21 vote. The budget included a 3.39 percent spending increase ($867,410) and a 4.94 percent tax levy increase.
At every school board meeting since then, varsity lacrosse coach Jim Longo and assistant coach Eric Nieman (whose paid position was cut by the budget) have appeared, presented arguments and magazine articles, and requested that the board replace the assistant coach salaries. Their repeated comments concerned the lack of supervision and direct coaching that the 30 or so players can receive with only one coach, as well as the safety issue of only one coach being responsible for a group of young men playing a physical, contact sport that can be very dangerous. While the team does have volunteer coaches that assist the team, Longo consistently said that he cannot count on volunteers alone to make up the coaching gap. The board has listened to and thanked them for their comments at every meeting, but no actions or in-depth discussions on the issue were had in any public sessions.
With the spring lacrosse season fast approaching and no action being taken by the board, volunteer assistant lacrosse coach Dave Falge and a cadre of concerned volunteer coaches, parents, players and former players attended the Oct. 21 board meeting to present a united front and once again urge the board to replace the eliminated assistant coaching funds. Their arguments not only concerned the possible weakening of a highly respected, winning and state-recognized lacrosse program, but also continued to center around the concerns of effective coaching, player supervision and player safety that only one paid coach can offer to a team of 30 athletes.
The Cazenovia varsity lacrosse team has posted a 75-8 record during the past four years, won the state championship in two of the past three years, and currently has 60 alumni playing on major college teams such as Syracuse and Georgetown.
“Competing Section III high school coaches and even officials do not believe our school district is considering this, let alone adopting it,” Falge said. “The core integrity and quality of our program is at risk. Our student athletes will ultimately be the ones who suffer.”
Falge also asked the board why paid lacrosse coaching positions were cut but the seven paid coaching positions currently on the football program (three varsity, two junior varsity and two modified) were left intact. “How do we lose half our coaches but football loses none?” he asked. “They’re staffed more than any other program here.”
Dr. John Cannnizarro told the board that as a collision sport, lacrosse players face a higher risk of injury than other athletes. He said it was “particularly dangerous” as a sport, and “it’s risky to have that going on with only one coach.”
District resident John Langan said funding coaches is just as important as funding academic programs and teachers because players often get accepted into college and universities on athletic scholarships that their grades would otherwise not make them qualified to get into.
Former Cazenovia high school lacrosse players Chris Nourse and Ben Romagnoli, who play for Georgetown and Syracuse University, respectively, also told the board that their time on the team was a positive influence on their lives and their educational experiences, and having only one paid coach would severely hurt the program and future players experiences in the program.
During the board’s discussion on the lacrosse coach funding issue, all of the members said they were concerned about the safety issue presented by the supporters who spoke, but said the budget decision was made because the board also needs to be fiscally responsible in how it allots funding. They also felt, at the time of the April budget decisions, that lacrosse is so popular it would have a number of parents and residents step forward to volunteer to help coach. “We never thought we’d have a full auditorium [of parents opposing the decision],” said board member Leigh Baldwin – a statement to which other board members agreed.
Baldwin said his position on the budget — which has been in a “downward spiral” for years — is that funding sports programs is more important than funding coaches, because if the program gets cut then having coaches will not even matter. “In the lacrosse world, people volunteer,” he said. “I wish we had four coaches, but there is a fiscal responsibility.”
Member Cindy Bell Tobey agreed with Baldwin’s comments, but said she is concerned about the safety issue broached by the speakers that night. She asked if some of the budget savings projected for the 2014-15 budget — such as on diesel fuel and business office personnel costs, which Assistant Superintendent Bill Furlong explained during the meeting — could be used to reinstate the paid assistant coaching positions.
District Athletic Director Mike Byrnes told the board that he believes he can find the $10,000 needed to fund the positions by a reevaluation of all coaching positions in the district. “I think there’s money there to fund these positions,” he said. “I recommend we reinstate both.”
Board President Pat Vogl asked Byrnes to submit to the board his reevaluation and figures for finding that extra $10,000 in his coaching costs, and said the board would look at his proposal and make a decision on the lacrosse coach funding at its November meeting.
Also at the meeting, the board:
—Officially accepted Superintendent Bob Dubik’s resignation. Dubik announced in July that he would retire at the end of the 2013-14 school year. “It is with great sadness that we accept your resignation,” said BOE President Pat Vogl.
—Reminded and urged district residents to complete the online survey asking the community what qualities and characteristics they want in the next superintendent. The survey responses — of which there have been 84 as of the board meeting — will be utilized by the board during its hiring process. Vogl said the district has posted the superintendent position job opening online as well as mailed it to more than 450 superintendents, consultants and universities in New York state.
—Approved a combination hockey team with players from the Hamilton school district, which the district also did last year. Athletic Director Michael Byrnes said Hamilton has signed up six players for the team, while Cazenovia has 18 players signed up. The cost to the Hamilton students would be about $1,100 per player.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.