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Braves Broke: Fonda-Fultonville reeling from cut in spring sports funding

December 23, 2012
By MIKE ZUMMO , The Leader Herald

FONDA - Very few thought it would happen, but the community was shocked last Monday when the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District Board of Education voted to cut spring sports as part of a solution to solving a midyear $500,000 budget shortfall.

The spring sports cuts amounted to a savings of $60,000 for the district.

"The kids are disappointed and if you have a kid whose only sport is track or softball, it's tough," track and field coach Mark Therrien said. "If they can't, it's hard for a kid to understand why that's happening."

But it happened and school officials, coaches and players are left to pick up the pieces.

"Even though we heard the possibility for a while, it was still a shock," first-year athletic director Eric Wilson said. "It is something that was unprecedented. You can prepare yourself for it, but until it really happens, it doesn't really hit home."

In some cases, the reaction was extreme as several spring athletes have floated the idea of transferring to a school that will offer sports in the spring.

"That's your first instinct," Wilson said. "I know if I was in their shoes, I think my first reaction would be [to] go where there's a possibility of playing sports. I don't think that option is available for all of our kids."

For a district the size of Class B Fonda-Fultonville, the departure of a few athletes could have a damaging effect across the board as most athletes play multiple sports.

"It's going to damage all of our sports," Wilson said. "We don't have a lot of specialization. We don't have kids that played just basketball or just football or just baseball. We have kids that play all of them. If we lose kids because of these spring sports, we lose kids in other seasons. It's going to hurt our sports next season. That's what I'm worried about."

Baseball coach Rick Palumbo said about 60 to 70 percent of the student body at Fonda-Fultonville is made up of athletes and some of those athletes also are some of the district's best students. The banners that line the high school gym display far more scholar athlete teams than sports championships.

Palumbo said the district's sports and academics are intertwined.

"Some of these kids are the best we have," Wilson said. "They do a lot for our schools. Since 2010, 80 percent of our athletes are scholar athletes. You don't want to lose that type of kid."

Wilson hopes the athletes who are considering leaving the district don't leave too soon because the district coaches are looking to find ways to keep the athletes at Fonda-Fultonville.

"The only thing I know is that the school district will not be funding any spring sports," Wilson said. "Whether that shuts us down or not, we hope not. There's a lot of questions out there right now."

One of the questions posed at a school board meeting early in the process was why were the spring sports season targeted.

Then-interim Superintendent Patrick Michel said winter sports were spared because teams had already started practicing when the budget shortfall was discovered in November. Michel said it would have been cruel to cancel a season after practice had begun.

Others find it cruel to take away a program that was included in a voter-approved budget.

"I'm not happy about it at all," Palumbo said. "I feel awful for all the kids that play spring sports. We had a lot of good kids that this is their favorite sport that's been taken away from them."

For some of them, it's their only sport and they've watched their friends and classmates play their respective fall and winter sports, only to find themselves shut out.

"I do have some players that are one-sport athletes and they kind of feel that they've been robbed," softball coach Kari MacDougall said. "But it's hard trying to explain finances to 16- and 17-year-olds."

However, what isn't hard to explain is that the the school district will not fund athletics in the spring after funding the first two-thirds of the sports year. The question of where things go from here remains.

"There's a lot of discussion and brainstorming," Wilson said. "We're hoping something is going to work out. What that is right now, we can't say because we don't really know."

Booster Club president Missy Furman said the club will meet with Wilson and district Treasurer Carey Schultz to see the figures and see how the club might be able to help.

Throughout the school year, the Booster Club has been raising money to save the district's modified programs, which were cut from the 2012-13 budget.

"Right now, we are not too sure where we stand or what we can do," Furman said. "It's a lot of money to come up with in such a short amount of time."

Wilson said seeking funding from those who paid to have modified sports reinstated may not be able to give anymore.

"People in our community have already given so much for modified," Wilson said. "They realize it is going to be a struggle."

Furman also said many parents were confused about how they could have paid more taxes for the school district last year and still have sports cut.

"I can tell you kids are not happy and, from the people I spoke to, the parents aren't happy either," Furman said.

The coaches also are not happy.

MacDougall said the closure of spring sports could hurt her senior players who may want to play softball in college.

The same can be said for other sports.

"I'm hoping it won't affect it too drastically, but you don't know," Therrien said. "We've got a lot of seniors looking for a good outdoor season. Their options are certainly not good for the atmosphere of the school. It's going to be hard to rebound."

It also will be hard for the programs to rebound should the spring season be lost, as several years ago, the Braves left the Western Athletic Conference for the Colonial Council and the school's teams are still finding their footing in the new league.

"I feel like we would be taking 10 steps backwards," MacDougall said. "We only have a short period of time and taking just one season off would kill us. Softball has improved every year. The Colonial Council is so much more competitive than what we've played. If we take a full year off and those other schools continue to develop, it would be that much harder to get back to where we were."

All three coaches and Wilson are teachers in the district and understand not keeping sports at the expense of cutting a teacher, but still wish the small fraction of the savings sports contained could have been found somewhere else.

"No one thought we would give up sports, but I'm a teacher first and coach second so I understand the need to keep teachers in the classroom," MacDougall said.

Palumbo said it's impossible to place blame for the situation.

"For whatever reason, we don't have the money," Palumbo said. "But to put blood in the water and make a point at the expense of the kids is dead wrong. I thought there were other ways to do that."

Wilson said he doesn't envy the school board or new interim Superintendent Raymond Colucciello, who still needs to find a way to cut another $100,000 from the budget.

"It's not a secret that we're in a financial crisis right now," Wilson said. "Everything is being looked at. Every extracurricular part of our school is going to be scrutinized. As a teacher, I understand what happens between 8 and 2:30 has to take priority, but where does it stop?"

News reporter Arthur Cleveland contributed to this report.



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