While there were concerns including by some students that the seasons would not go forward amid the COVID-19 situation, coaches for the fall season in five low-risk sports have been approved by the Board of Education.
The board voted 7-2 Thursday night to appoint 15 varsity and junior-varsity coaches including some assistants for teams in cross-country, field hockey, gymnastics, soccer, and tennis.
Practices are to begin Monday. Games/contests would begin Oct. 13 and would end Nov. 6, said school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake.
Voting against the coach appointments were board members Leigh Loughran and Jonathon Matwejic-Walda. Loughran said Friday her decision was "not a vote against any of the coaches as individuals," but added "I am reluctant to endorse activities that can lead to an uptick in COVID cases, thereby affecting the full reopening of our schools."
In addition, by not offering a full complement of modified, JV and varsity sports, Loughran said, "we could have potentially had a significant cost savings in the face of unprecedented reductions in state funding" for the school district overall.
Matwejic-Walda, meanwhile, said Friday "I do not fail to understand the importance of athletics in our students' lives, I fully appreciate the intricate realtionship they play with keeping different students excited and engaged, but the reality is that we are in a struggle to provide the most basic necessities to our students."
He added "I know we want to project assuredness and be positive when we can, so promising athletics will resume may be a step toward that goal, but the reality is that we simply do not have any clue how even getting kids back into the buildings will go."
Matwejic-Walda further said "sports are also expensive to run" and that while cutting them for the year would not resolve budget issues facing the district, "this would be at least something to mediate a portion of the huge losses to budget both currently realized and projected. The fact that forgoing athletics would somewhat uncomplicate a year that will be filled with challenges made it an easy choice for me."
On Thursday afternoon about three hours before the meeting, about 25 students from several of the teams rallied in front of the school district office at 409 Bell Road, carrying signs that included such messages as “Save our season” and “Let us Play!” Rome Free Academy field hockey player Jace Hunzinger, who was among the students, said the rally was because they had gotten information that having the seasons might be “up in the air.” Some coaches had given them a “heads up” that the seasons might not be happening, she added.
The resolution for the coach appointments was not listed on the board’s agenda prior to the meeting, and was added by the board during the meeting. Blake told the board it was not on the pre-meeting agenda because the district did not want to assume the board would appoint coaches, but had the resolution ready for the board in the event that it opted to do so.
Among teams represented by students at the Thursday afternoon rally were field hockey, tennis, soccer and cross-country, said Hunzinger.
During the gathering, Board of Education Vice President Tanya Davis talked to the students and told them the board would be talking about the sports team topic later in the evening. Davis, who said she heard about the rally on her way home from work, praised the students for their efforts in organizing the rally and expressing themselves.
Blake said on Twitter this morning he was “proud of our student-athletes who have repeatedly and frequently displayed their passion and determination to play” for RFA sports “in a mature and responsive way.” He added he was “happy to get athletics underway on Monday.”
The district in a Facebook post this morning said “thank you to the student-athletes who came together to support their teams yesterday in a responsible way.”
The coach appointments, all with start dates of Sept. 28:
• Ty Knamm, Boys Varsity Cross Country;
• Nicholas Jeror, Varsity Girls Cross Country;
• Rachel Reid, Boys/Girls/Varsity Assistant Cross Country;
• Mackenzie Welter, Varsity Field Hockey;
• Kayla Smith, JV Field Hockey;
• Kelly Reese, Assistant Field Hockey;
• Kevin Perrone, Varsity Gymnastics;
• Kaelei Spoor, Girls Varsity Gymnastics Assistant;
• Chad Reese, Varsity Boys Soccer;
• Tyler Stevenson, Varsity Boys Soccer Assistant;
• Melissa Downs, Varsity Girls Soccer;
• Mark Rushton, Boys JV Soccer;
• David Gardiner, JV Girls Soccer;
• Diane Stevenson, Girls Varsity Soccer Assistant; and
• Nicholas Natishak, Varsity Girls
Salaries for the coaches for the shortened seasons will be negotiated, said Blake. Among sports typically played in the fall that have been moved to next spring are football, girls swimming, volleyball and competitive cheer.