4/25/2013 2:48:00 PM School board asked to approve soccer
By Nora Bryson
Neither rain nor snow nor sleet or storm could keep Cannon Falls Soccer Club parents and students away from the Monday night, April 22, School Board meeting as they filled the High School's Media Center in an effort to have the District adopt the sport that has over 315 kids participating each summer.
"Our kids just want to play in the HVL in a Bomber uniform," long-time soccer-mom, Val Dockter explained during the comment period.
Perhaps the only thing more formidable than the weather outside was the reception given the group by Board Chair Bob Brintnall. He began the soccer discussion with the rules of engagement: limited comments (the group was to choose one or two spokespersons) would be allowed at the end of the meeting during the Public Forum portion of the meeting; the discussion period was for board members only.
He moved on to explain that John Burch Park was "already over-used," the District was already concerned with limited facility space (bleachers and concessions had taken previously available green space from behind the school) and they were not in the position to acquire more real estate. He was also concerned over Title 9 and funding questions. He alluded to the idea that some sports already lack proper/safe equipment due to funding shortages. He said the five days since being approached about adding soccer was not enough time to make a decision.
Board member Rob Siebenaler responded with a more conciliatory approach, acknowledging the effort to bring in a new sport and suggesting the administration and the Activities Director form a committee and make recommendations. He felt the green space in front of the High School could be utilized.
Board member Jerry Reinardy, while admitting that he did not even know there was a soccer club in Cannon Falls, stated that the matches should not be held at John Burch Park; indeed, only varsity should have the historical prestige of playing there. He inquired as to whether Randolph had been approached as a possible co-op partner.
Board member Curt Beissel said he felt the more opportunity the better as long as the District could meet their Title 9 requirements. He was concerned that the soccer fields at St. Paul's Lutheran did not have lights.
Superintendent Beth Giese interjected that the soccer club had approached her two years ago and "have put a lot of time and effort into this...we shouldn't put them off." She said families that are considering moving into the district, when they tour the school, are surprised and disappointed that soccer is not offered. She felt the two-year trial period being offered by St. Paul's (free use of their fields) was a fair request of the parents and students in attendance. She stated that St. Paul's fields adequately covered all Title 9 requirements. "These are soccer kids uniquely designed to play soccer," she explained. "You're not going to change them into football or tennis players."
Community Education and Athletic Director, Jake Winchell, when asked to give a little more background into the situation, explained how St. Paul's has offered a two-year contract to use their soccer fields for games or practices. He said the area behind the Elementary might also be available. The Soccer Club has offered to pay for the coaches and referees for the two-year trial period. He said there are currently three levels of play for both boys and girls teams. It is a fall sport and would start in late August, about the same time as football, volleyball, and tennis. He believed the program would be cost neutral due to students paying activity fees as students do for every other sport. Given the summer soccer numbers he felt the program would be "sustainable."
Board member Pat Dougherty when asked to weigh-in, stated that he has witnessed the dedication of the kids and their soccer moms. "They just want to play in the HVL," he stated emphatically. But he said he had also heard concerns from the school's coaching staff about the ability "to fund EVERYTHING, over-stretching our AD (Athletic Director) or Athletic Trainer, having enough kids to support another program, busing kids to practice at St. Paul's." He said he wanted more numbers as to what the costs would be past the two-year trial.
Giese refuted the busing issue, stating that parents would be responsible for getting kids to practices, as like they do for all other activities.
Siebenaler said the cost estimates he received for starting up the program were around $12,000 gross, "but several are one-time costs, like nets."
Brintnall reiterated his concerns that they were "rushing into this...the conversation is too new...we've only discussed the pros, I want to know more of the cons."
Trying to get to some resolution, Siebenaler asked, "OK, Bob, you're always talking about 'deal-breakers.' Are any of these questions deal breakers for you? I've been working on this for over 16 months-so it's not that new."
Giese sought some middle ground, stating that some of the head coaches had very valid concerns, but it was her job "to look at revenue." She felt adding soccer had the potential of bringing more people into the District, the school, and the community; "spending their dollars eating and shopping here." But she also stated that, given current economics, the District was "NOT in the position to add more costs."
Beissel suggested they check to see if Randolph was interested in partnering and if they had any fields.
Board member Brenda Owens said this was the first she'd heard of the program, but that she supported it given the opportunity to try it out with no cost to the district.
Siebenaler reminded the board of the time needed to build a schedule, get coaches, etc. given they are moving into the one-meeting a month for the summer.
Winchell said he could still get the program started if a decision was made by the end of May.
Brintnall reminded the board it was listed on the agenda as a discussion item and asked that it be added to the May 20th meeting as an action item.
At the end of the meeting, comments supporting and further explaining the program were made by Dockter, Matt Fimmen, and club soccer coach Adam Rueger, and students Zach Dockter and Maggie Rutter. They explained that it was not their intent to pull kids from the other sports that are currently offered. They felt the summer soccer program served as an excellent feeder program that would keep the soccer numbers strong well into the future; pointing out that their numbers rival those of basketball (Cannon Falls sport with the greatest participation). They said the March clinic held through Community Education was "full." They promised not to use John Burch Park in the future (had only used it for two play-off matches last year). They felt they could be "part of the solution in making more fields available." They distributed a handout with cost projections, pointing out that the "athletic fees more than cover the program costs."
David Barr of the Cannon Falls Youth Athletic Association spoke against adding soccer. He felt the district was at "a critical period" with only 600 kids currently in grades 3-6 available to play sports. He said there was "not enough room and not enough money." He said that the board should NOT be considering adding another sport when they are cutting teachers.