Thursday, March 21, 2013

Football Study Committee Formed

Kenny Rotner and Peter Zwarts take their seats on the board.

The Oyster River School Board voted tonight to authorize the superintendent to form a football study committee. The committee, to be chaired by Principal Todd Allen and Athletic Director Corey Parker, is charged with studying all aspects of bringing football to the high school, including safety, costs, impact on other sports, Title IX, facilities and transportation. The committee will have five additional members, and will report a recommendation to the board in June.  Board members Lane and Turnbull voted against the committee, with Lane saying it was unnecessary as the issues were addressed in the March 6 presentation.

Pro high school football demonstrators line the hall
The upshot of this is that there will be no football in ORHS in 2013.  Despite the pressure of a picket line and many public comments urging the board to approve football "tonight," the board chose to seek more information before deciding.  At this point the question being considered is the approval of a football club team starting fall 2014.  Despite not having their demand met, the footballers who managed to stick it out to the board's discussion seemed to take the approval of a committee and the additional year delay rather well, with some of them quickly volunteering to be on the committee.

Tom Newkirk, who proposed the committee, insisted that it was not a delaying tactic, but rather the board's way of doing its own due diligence in making an informed decision.  A majority of the board appears to recognize that this is the major decision point.  They understand that once they vote to approve, we will eventually have a varsity program with its concomitant costs, benefits and consequences.  They're right to be skeptical about "just try it for a couple of years."

Board members Ann Lane and Al Howland congratulated ORYA and the pro-ORHS-football forces for demonstrating a strong, genuine desire for football in Oyster River.  Apparently the athletic director had a survey of high school students to report, but, inadvertently I think, was not given the opportunity to speak about it at the meeting.

Todd Allen, who by policy is responsible for issuing the recommendation to the board, tried to push the report date out to August, claiming he's already busy this spring, extra busy as the district romances various tuition towns.   At the superintendent's behest, the board declined to go along with Todd, sticking to the June date.  The football supporters can at least count this as a victory.

The meeting went down more or less as I predicted in the previous post.  I missed a couple of things:  First, I failed to predict a committee would be formed.  Second, the planned discussion on the new policy JJIF did not happen, as the Policy Committee's meeting to complete a draft was snowed out and rescheduled for next week.

Probably what I got most wrong was downplaying how important this meeting was for football.  It was indeed an important meeting as advertised in the email.  It was the right meeting for the football fans to show up for in numbers.  There hasn't been this sort of turnout at board meetings since the summer of 2011, when there was all the outrage over the tweets.  The football decision is much more pleasant.  And with all the children at meetings, the adults are generally on their best behavior.

The pro-ORHS-football folks have done a great job organizing. Glen Miller and Dave Dembowitz made a very impressive pitch on March 6. There's no doubt that the board sees all the people at the meetings, hears all the comments, and has the impression that there's a whole lot of support for football in the district.

Public comments: One kid said he liked football because he got to hit people without getting in trouble, or words to that effect.  I thought I heard someone claim that 30 district kids wouldn't show up at ORHS in the fall if football is not offered.  There were more football boosters disclosing concussions and other injuries in their past.  The group continues to be simultaneously encouraging and cagey about sponsors.  Tonight's clues: Not Marlboro, not Anheuser Busch, local, $4,100. And Dave D. looks familiar -- isn't he the guy who tried to sell us turf in Lee?

If I had to guess on the eventual vote for approval, I'd say Lane, Turnbull and probably Howland vote YES, Barth votes NO.  One of Newkirk, Charle, or Rotner needs to vote YES for football to pass.   All we have are hints: Tom Newkirk's brother played football. Ed Charle and Kenny Rotner are both M.D.s. Kenny said at the meeting that he was willing to grant parents the freedom to decide for their own child whether the game is sufficiently safe.  Presumably he'll make his decision on other grounds. My guess is that there's probably a fourth vote to be had, so we're likely looking at football in ORHS starting September 2014. Calm down folks, it's just a guess.

The election mattered.  Approval would be easier if Krista Butts was still on the board.  (It was nice to see her make a public comment tonight.)   Approval may have been easier had Carl Piedmont won instead of Kenny.  The football folks probably would have been better off presenting to the board a few months earlier.  With all the public support, they could have probably even gotten a couple of people elected to the board.  I'm personally grateful they didn't try.

This is an interesting occasion where some normally cost conscious board members seem eager to spend. They do hide behind the fig leaf of the "won't cost the district a cent" proposal.  Superintendent Morse said the athletic director had identified at least $10,000 in costs not in the original proposal. The board boosters are probably not naive enough to believe the costs presented are a full accounting, that external fundraising and other revenue won't ever dry up in the future, or that equity demands that football be paid for like other sports won't eventually arise. In other words, everybody should assume that a vote to approve is a vote to spend district money on football.

I would add to the list of items the committee should consider (and they may already be there -- this post is all from memory): the effect on the culture, especially with regard to academics, and, with regard to equity, how students with fewer resources who'd like to play are supported.

Equity is the new buzzword around town, apparently being the talking point settled on by members Turnbull and Lane.  I guess the argument is: The students are allowed to play other sports, so, to maintain equity they must be allowed to play football.  Or perhaps: past boards recklessly approved other club teams, so they should recklessly approved football as well.  I don't think either of these arguments are particularly good.  Equity is mostly about fairness: the opportunities the school affords should ideally be available to all students. Obviously there's no right to a football team, even if the school offers other sports. It's each board member's decision to make however they see fit.

Someone mentioned that we should review existing sports for safety as well. I guess the idea was a bluff: it sounds fair but also sounds like lots of work, so rather than doing it we can just do a less thorough job on football. I'd call. Reviewing safety issues for all sports sounds like a pretty good idea to me, and certainly a better choice than not carefully considering football safety.

I'm interested to see if there continues to be a public football presence at the board meetings, or if the board has quelled things down until the June recommendation.  Here's a cautionary tale to football supporters who plan to attend going forward: I started going over one issue two years ago and I'm still going.

In other news, the board welcomed new member Kenny Rotner, reelected member Tom Newkirk, and newly elected student member Peter Zwarts.  Maria Barth and Tom Newkirk were once again chosen to be chair and vice-chair.   Congratulations to them all.

Andrea Bulfinch was in attendance, and here's the piece in Foster's under her byline. I assume Ms. Bulfinch is not responsible for the misleading headline.

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