Students, parents and graduates came out in support of sports teams that could be cut next year under a preliminary budget plan presented by Valley Stream Central High School District administrators.
At the Feb. 12 Board of Education meeting at Memorial Junior High School, trustees were urged to keep the rifle, bowling and golf teams. Just a week earlier, it was revealed that those three sports could be eliminated as district officials seek to cut $2.65 million in order to meet the state’s tax levy cap.
Most of the support was for the bowling teams at the three high schools, as well as the district-wide rifle team.
“Cutting these sports, no matter what sport it is, you’re taking away our lives, our dreams, our heart,” said Central High School junior Chris Messina, a member of the bowling team. “You’re taking away everything.”
Messina, who spoke on behalf of bowlers at all three schools, said he would be disappointed if the sport was cut in his senior year. He also explained that being on the team has kept him motivated to do better in school.
Speaking in support of the rifle team was its captain, Central High School senior Danielle Cuomo. In what was perhaps the most emotional speech of the night, Cuomo cited her many accomplishments, including setting a county record, ranking high in the state and taking part in the Junior Olympics. Being on the rifle team, she said, was also a key factor in her acceptance into the United States Military Academy next year. She will head to West Point in the fall as a cadet and a rifle competitor.
The Valley Stream rifle team has won six straight state championships, and seven of the last eight titles. “I have been blessed to be on teams that have gone undefeated, and they are Nassau County and New York state high school champions,” Cuomo said. “We are a proud group of kids. We work hard for our sport. We work hard at school and we demonstrate a proud posture in our conduct.”
Nick Novello, a South High graduate, was a member of the rifle team from 2005 to 2008, and competed for four years at Ohio State University. While at South, he also qualified for the Empire State Games and the Junior Olympics. “The opportunities that this team gave me were once in a lifetime,” he said, adding that it would be a crime to cut the sport given the many scholarship opportunities it creates.
Joanne Cuomo, Danielle’s mother and a member of the rifle team herself in the late 1970s, presented the board with a list of athletes from the past two decades who have qualified for full or partial scholarships because of their success on the rifle team.
Denise Diodato, the mother of a rifle team member, noted that the sport has been in the district since the 1930s, and its non-contact nature creates a level playing field for all participants. It is also one of the few co-ed teams.
Angela and Joe Lucente spoke up for the bowling team. Their daughter, Maria, bowls for the North squad. “We will do whatever it takes to keep bowling in the high school budget,” Angela said, adding that her daughter is hoping to get a college bowling scholarship and is even hoping to turn pro.
Michele Marcus, the South bowling coach for seven years, said that the teams at all three high schools have a history of success. Valley Stream makes up three-fifths of Conference VI, she explained, so the elimination of bowling would affect other schools as well.
“For a significant number of our kids, bowling is the only sport that provides the opportunity for them to be a member of a team,” she said. “It means everything to these kids.
“If you ever hear someone mention bowling is not a real sport,” she added, “come out one day and watch the enormous talent of our Valley Stream students.”
Board of Education President Tony Iadevaio said that none of the cuts are final, and that the 2013-14 budget is still in its preliminary stage. No board member wants to make these cuts, he said, but trustees must assemble a budget that the taxpayers can afford. He added that there is no way to make $2.65 million in cuts without some impact on students and staff.
Superintendent Dr. Bill Heidenreich explained that the reason he chose the three sports to cut was because the per-athlete costs are among the highest in the district. The rifle range, he noted, must undergo a lead abatement every few years to meet health and safety standards, and that costs $100,000.
Heidenreich said that for years the district trimmed sports without actually cutting any teams. Teams were combined and assistant coaches were eliminated at all levels but varsity in an effort to control costs while preserving opportunities for students. “All along,” he said, “it was a trimming around the edges, let’s preserve the program.”
The preliminary budget, Heidenreich said, spreads the pain around. Fifteen full-time teaching positions would be cut, including at least one in every major subject area, along with several support staff positions. He explained that, given a choice between cutting sports and increasing class sizes, he choses the option that would have the smallest impact on academics.
Iadevaio said that board members have and would continue to lobby state and federal representatives for more money, and he hopes state aid will come in higher than the governor’s original proposal.
Board members will continue to discuss the budget at upcoming meetings, and will likely adopt a proposed spending plan at either the March business meeting or the April committee meeting.