It was an unusually crowded school board meeting Wednesday, with about 15 people showing up mostly to support the proposed cooperative agreement which lets ORHS students play football for the Portsmouth High School team. The two-year agreement to form a Portsmouth/Oyster-River Division 1 cooperative football team hosted by Portsmouth has already been approved by the Portsmouth school board. Former board member Krista Butts and Coach Willie Ouellette were among the public commenters urging the board to approve the agreement.
Once passed by the board, the plan has to be submitted to the NH Interscholastic Athletic Association for approval, which takes a year, so this agreement covers only one year of play, commencing fall 2017. To continue, the program must be renewed by both boards (and reapproved by NHIAA, which goes faster). Portsmouth has already said it would prefer to play in Division 2, so would not renew if its enrollment falls enough to allow this. It seemed the sense of the Oyster River board that they would not renew if the program caused significant Title IX violations.
The discussion echoed the discussion from several years ago. Several board members expressed their intention to vote for the agreement with the reservation that their support was not an endorsement of football at Oyster River, but rather a stepping back and allowing parents to make to the choice for their own children. In the end the board requested improvements to the agreement, explicitly adding that Portsmouth would be the agent of the funds (so Oyster River would not be involved with the money), and also to explicitly indicate the players were covered by Portsmouth's liability insurance, not Oyster River's.
Besides the agreement and the safety concerns, the discussion at the table revolved around Title IX and cost. Football would technically be a club sport at Oyster River, with the direct cost of $1000 per player borne by the player's family. (AD Parker has said he would find private funding for families that could not afford the fee.) But there are indirect costs because Title IX requires us to maintain equal participation of boys and girls in sports.
We are currently at parity, with boys and girls participating in athletics in exact proportion to their numbers. We often hear 72% of ORHS students do athletics, so back of the envelope that works to around 500 kids. Title IX can tolerate a 3% disparity, which I think means if 3% of 250 = 8 net new athlete boys playing football with no other changes, we're out of compliance. We would be forced to find new girl athletes, possibly with the expense of an added sport to attract them. Crew was suggested though there's no particular reason to think that would attract more girls than boys. Girls would be welcome on the football team, and any that join would help alleviate Title IX pressures.
I'm for approval. My main concern is when the agreement ends, there will be pressure to field our own team at Oyster River, with all the concerns about costs, safety, and Title IX still present.
Coop Girls Ice Hockey
A separate but related issue is the formation of a cooperative girls ice hockey team with Portsmouth High, to be hosted by Oyster River. This one was more controversial, with one speaker in favor and one against. The main issue is there's some indication that Oyster River on its own will be able to support a team of 16 to 20 players. The worry was that taking Portsmouth girls as well would lessen the opportunities for Oyster River girls. I think our athletic director said about five Portsmouth girls have expressed interest. The hockey coach was in favor of the agreement, relating the difficulties of fielding a team with a rather small roster. If approved, the coop team could begin play as soon as next season. The board directed AD Parker to gather more information about the various girls hockey programs so the board can make a better informed decision.
There's time pressure to get these agreements passed before the NHIAA process pushes opening day back even more, so I expect the board will vote on both of these at the next meeting.
There's not much other news. Niche.com ranked Oyster River as the third best school district in NH, behind Hanover and Bedford. ORCSD school board Candidate's Night is this Tuesday, February 16. Maybe we'll finally meet the mysterious Margaret Redhouse, who has filed to run but has so far not appeared. The other two contenders for the two at-large board seats are existing member Kenny Rotner and current chairman Tom Newkirk.