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Schenectady athletes still hold out hope

Sunday, April 6, 2014
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There was the massive, windowless brick wall behind Schenectady High School, and a kid in a lacrosse T-shirt with a defenseman’s long stick.

From one of the few patches of sidewalk that wasn’t puddled and muddy on Saturday morning, he chucked the ball over and over, just a quiet, repetitive thud.

Inside the school, efforts to keep the sports programs alive started to find a pulse again, after a grim school board meeting on Wednesday at which the board outlined a long list of budget cuts that promises to make a bloodbath of extracurricular activities.

Besides a variety of minor measures to chip away at the enormous gap, a tax hike was proposed, which seemed to signal that somehow, some way, the powers that be will figure out a way to save sports at the high school.

The budget work session was encouraging, but as any athlete knows, a victory isn’t secure and official until the scoreboard hits double zero. In the meantime, they’re holding their breath to see how the budget process shakes out. The next board meeting, at which tentative approval of a budget is scheduled, is on Wednesday.

“They’re still kind of in a holding pattern,” said varsity wrestling coach and football assistant Chad Languish. “I expressed to my team what could happen. There’s a lot of concern on their faces. There’s some fear and nervousness. That’s why they wanted to make sure they were here today.”

“It’s a big, overwhelming shock for us,” said Juliana Murcia-Montoya, a junior on the girls’ lacrosse team. “I think we were scared coming in, that maybe they might make the decision. However, we wanted to show our support to the sports program. And we came in here with our heads held high showing how much this means to us.”

Representatives from just about every team attended the Saturday meeting.

The girls’ lacrosse team, in particular, showed up on a mission, bringing posters with words like “Courage” and “Perseverance” to signify the qualities sports participation reinforces.

“At the beginning, we were in the back with our posters … silent, straight looks, very serious,” girls’ lacrosse coach Taylor DeThorne said. “Yes, our game faces. This was another game for us. Hopefully, we come out with another win.”

Most school districts face a budget crunch as a matter of routine, and frequently sports are targeted as an avenue to cut costs.

It’s no different at Schenectady, with the second-biggest enrollment in Section II.

The difference this year is that the school board faces a deficit so enormous that it threatens extracurriculars over the entire spectrum.

It seems mind-boggling that a school with a gym named after Pat Riley and a football field named after Larry Mulvaney could be in this gut-wrenching position, but it is.

As board president Cathy Lewis said on Wednesday, “It feels like no choices at all.”

What the district would lose by eliminating sports should seem obvious, but bears repeating.

“Sports helps kids in ways that the classroom can’t,” said DeThorne, a former Patriots athlete who graduated from Schenectady five years ago. “For me, it’s not about losing my job, it’s not about coaching, it’s about going through the program, and that little girl over there, she might not be able to do that. That’s where we’re at.”

“These kids would have nothing to do after school,” Languish said. “What would they do, is my question.”

“I know a lot of kids that don’t play sports who actually take days off of school just to play video games,” said Murcia-Montoya, who is also enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. “That’s scary. Those are people we’re trying to influence, that there’s a bigger community involved.”

DeThorne said she believes that the turnout made by the athletic programs and the feedback they got from some of the board members signals that the board will somehow grind out a solution to save sports.

You almost become immune to the annual talk of budget cuts, but this year, the unusual seriousness of the situation has people rattled.

Making a case for why sports and the arts and music are essential is the easy part. It’s always been the easy part.

“I’m scared until it’s decided,” DeThorne said. “We got some people on our side today. There’s a couple board members who came up to us and told us everything looks great and good job and we saw your win in the paper.

“And then there are some who are saying that someone is going to suffer. Something has to be taken away. And people here want answers. We didn’t get many of them today. Unfortunately. But we’ll be there on Wednesday, as well.”

Outside, the lacrosse kid practiced his stickwork.

The wall wouldn’t budge.

Then again, the ball kept coming back.

 
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