SAEGERTOWN — Timothy Glasspool has been the PENNCREST School District superintendent for less than a year.
So when it was announced that there would be PENNCREST Athletic Committee Town Hall meeting on Monday at Saegertown High School, many of the 180 or so attendees showed up fearing the ‘worst.’ And while that ‘worst’ — consolidation — may be in the future at some point, most were pleasantly surprised by what actually took place.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” said Glasspool. “I think that when the schoolboard said they wanted to have a meeting to get people’s thoughts and ideas, they meant it. I have only been here 11 months, so I don’t have any previous knowledge of consolidation talks or anything like that. I really wanted to hear ideas on how we could do athletics better here at PENNCREST.”
In the end, consolidation of the district’s three schools and/or athletic programs was never truly in play.
Instead, Glasspool steered the proceedings to find out ways to make the athletic experience more beneficial to the students. And not just the students that were participating, as creating more excitement and interest — an increase in participation the goal — were also key. In the end, there were several ideas that raised a few eyebrows.
“I expected several of the suggestions we got,” said Glasspool. “And it was really nice to hear what people had to say. Again, I’ve only been here 11 months, so I think I need to listen a lot more than I talk to get some perspective.
“We want kids to participate and be involved in the school, so why not listen to what they have to say.”
Perhaps the most talked about thoughts had to do with the elementary programs.
Debbie Miller, a teacher at Cambridge Springs, was adamant that this should be the focus of change. The kids in the elementary programs are the feeder system that make a varsity program work and grow. Without them, numbers dwindle to unsustainable levels. Miller also thought coaches needed to do a better job of working together to allow athletes the opportunity to pursue other interests, whether it be another sport, music or another extracurricular activity.
Then there was gym time for the elementary programs. The first person to bring this to attention was Pennsylvania Volleyball Hall of Famer Sheila Bancroft. According to Bancroft, it is easier for her to go to another school and get access to the gym than it is in her own school district. Several other speakers mentioned that gym time is sometimes prioritized for the public rather than the students. And others spoke about how elementary practices sometimes don’t take place until later in the evening because a high school time has priority.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” said PENNCREST athletic director Dana Mason. “I was pretty confident we’d have a good turnout, because athletics seem to hold a lot of people’s attention. The direction, I knew was going to be informational. And I thought a lot of people did a great job communicating their ideas.”
Another big topic was transportation. And although Glasspool announced that the board did vote to begin running activity buses for the high schools in the fall, that was not enough to satisfy everyone. Lisa Burdick, the Cambridge Springs soccer booster president, mentioned that travel was an issue for her junior high club soccer squad. And it was also mentioned as an issue even at the elementary level.
There were other suggestions made, some more likely than others. Among the top ideas:
• Creating better concession stands within the high schools. “We have the worst concessions in the area,” said Bancroft.
• Allowing coaches and booster to do more in helping take care of the fields.
• Creating more opportunities through cooperative agreements. Saegertown standout athlete Ava Jones was a big proponent, especially since she wants to compete in track & field. She also stated golf was a possibility, but did not want to compete on the boys team because they are “scary.”
• And perhaps the most interesting, allowing participation in school athletics to count toward a student’s physical education credit.
“I thought, ‘That’s a great idea. Why don’t we do that?” said Mason. “Now, PE is a (Pennsylvania Department of Education) thing, so I don’t know the legality of it. But I thought that was a great idea.”
Finally, just because consolidation was not on the board’s mind doesn’t mean it was not allowed to be discussed.
Matt Wilcox, the 2002 PIAA Class 2A 189-pound state champion for Maplewood, made a passionate statement on behalf of consolidation. He brought up recent teacher furloughs and cuts. He pointed to the dropping population and asked, “How long can (the district) sustain three sports programs and three schools?” He remarked that, at some point, it would all have to come to a crashing halt.
Wilcox mentioned that he thought he was attending a meeting where the public would learn of a plan on what to expect. The plan for the future of academics, sports, music ... And while he had no issues with trying to find ways to give kids more opportunities, he was more interested in giving them the best possible opportunities to succeed.
Surprisingly, one of Wilcox’s biggest backers was Saegertown’s 2005 PIAA Class 2A 189-pound state champion, Pat Bradshaw.
Bradshaw got up from his seat at the front of the auditorium and made his way over to where the mic was early in the meeting. However, rather than jump right in and give his point of view, he waited.
“I wanted to see what other people came up with first,” said Bradshaw. “The elementary programs ... that is good stuff.”
But not satisfied with he had heard, Bradshaw took the mic. And he made no effort to hide what he felt was in the best interest of the schools, the student athletes and, most importantly, the future.
“I know I am leaning on my own sword,” said Bradshaw. “I am the lowest rung on the totem pole. But I see the numbers, and this is a numbers game. It is a money number, it is a student number. And (consolidation) is inevitable. But no one wants to look down that road.
“I’ve really been looking into this because of my kids. And when people want to push this off for 10 years, that’s when my kids will be coming through. I have looked at the numbers. This is a $59 million business. What are we doing to drive people back into the area.”