Pay-to-play not right for all
Brookfield and Liberty high schools already have adopted some form of pay-to-play in their athletic programs, and Girard was following a similar path until recently.
That's when, on its third try, the community narrowly passed a school levy that allowed for some flexibility and had school officials breathing a sigh of relief.
All of this financial unrest only confirms the troubling state of education in Ohio and how it's crossing over onto playing fields.
"This is probably the most crucial time in education as far as the funding of schools," said Girard athletic director Joe Cappuzzello, 53, who's spent 30 years in the district.
To overcome these financial burdens, every school district is forced into making a decision that it believes is best for students. Many times those decisions, especially when related to athletics, are met with an unpopular response from the community.
"A lot of school systems are in financial difficulty," Cappuzzello said. "We'll know within the next couple of years what's going to happen."
In the stages leading up to the most recent vote, Girard's board of education and coaches agreed to avoid a pay-to-play format, even if the levy failed. Instead, they decided to first eliminate paid coaching positions before any programs.
"The board took the high road and decided it would go to a skeletal staff," said Cappuzzello, who favored the decision. "We would do that for a year. Then next year if we didn't pass anything, it would come down to eliminating some of the programs."
But, as Girard learned on Monday, it wouldn't need to follow that route in full as the levy passed by a mere 17 votes.
The athletic program is still eight to 10 coaches shy this year because of the system Girard originally put in place, Cappuzzello said.
In the end, that system kept pay-to-play away.
"None of us were in favor of pay-to-play," Cappuzzello said. "It's an inequitable way to do things; there are too many variables. It pits one group against another and you get inner turmoil from that."
There are a lot of factors, known and unknown, that weigh on educational funding, which haven't yet been addressed by the state, Cappuzzello said.
"If Ohio is the third-highest taxed state in the union, where is all the money going?"
Until future failures force the state into action, schools will have to fend for themselves.
"As a society, we have to decide what we want from our school systems," Cappuzzello said. "[Right now], we want everything."
In Struthers, athletic director Rob Conklin said there's a great deal of enthusiasm among the programs despite rumors of a teachers strike threatening fall sports.
"Once you reach a particular point in negotiations, a strike notice is almost always handed down," he said of talks between teachers and the school system on a new contract. "We reached that stage quite a while ago."
Since then, Conklin said, a tentative agreement has been reached between the sides and is awaiting a vote.
"As of right now, that agreement has not been voted on by either party," said Conklin, adding that he believes it will be completed before Struthers' season-opening football game on Aug. 27 against Liberty.
Conklin remains optimistic of the road ahead.
"Being a teacher for 30 years and having been involved in negotiations, nobody wants to go that route," he said of a strike.
City Series update
In a time of constant flux among high school conferences, Canton Timken is beginning its last season in the City Series with Chaney, The Rayen School and Woodrow Wilson.
Timken will join the Principals Athletic Conference for the 2005-06 school year, with Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Navarre Fairless, Akron Manchester, Wooster Triway, Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley and Massillon Tuslaw.
Meanwhile, the City Series will break apart in spring 2005 when the three Youngstown schools join the Steel Valley Conference in all sports except football.
XBrian Richesson is a sports writer for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.