COOPERSTOWN — More than 150 students, parents and community members packed the Cooperstown Board of Education meeting Wednesday in a sea of orange and black to show support for the district’s football program, which many feared to be on the chopping block as district officials draft next year’s budget.
Although a five-year budgetary projection indicates that the district’s expenditures will continue to “significantly outpace” its revenues, Superintendent Bill Crankshaw said the district does not have a budget deficit.
“We had talked at the last meeting about cutting some things — I’m going to use the word ‘cut,’ even though I don’t like to use that word,” Crankshaw said.
Proposed cuts included two teaching positions and the varsity and modified football teams, he said. Board members also discussed the possibility of combining the boys and girls varsity swim teams.
“If we cut what we could across all sports, what could we do? How much could that save, rather than just cutting a particular sport or a particular level?” Crankshaw said. “What could we trim? What could we spend differently? It’s a significant difference, I would say.”
“We’re very preliminary in budget discussions,” he said. “No decisions has been made.”
The varsity football team forfeited its 2019 season after playing only two games because of a lack of participation, according to athletic officials, who cited similar reasons for switching from an 11-person team to an 8-person team in 2017.
Tres Loeffler, a Cooperstown alumnus who coaches the modified football team and serves as vice president of the youth football program, said the game is a community tradition of more than 100 years.
“Youth and modified football scores are not published, and for good reason — we want players to be able to develop themselves and their skills rather than focus on the outcome of the game,” Loeffler said. “For that reason, many people are unaware of what successful and well-attended programs we have at any level other than varsity.”
Of the more than 100 students K-12 who participate in the football program, 31 play on the third- and fourth-grade team and 49 play in grades five through nine, he said.
“I believe we have a very successful and thriving football program that is vital to so many families here in Cooperstown,” Loeffler said. “I hope here tonight you will see what an impact it has on the growth and development of our students, the sense of identity it gives to our community, and the hometown reverence uncommon to many other districts.”
Fly Creek resident Ellen Pernat teared up describing how joining the football team turned her son’s life around and inspired his two younger brothers to play.
“He has made the friends that he has, he is the person he is today — and he’s a strong, cocky little thing, which I love, because that’s not who he used to be — I credit this to our football family and the amazing coaches we have,” she said.
Michael Perrino, former president of Cooperstown Youth Football, said he witnessed the program threatened many times throughout his 20 years of involvement, but credited its longevity to community support.
“One of the best things you learn is how to lose — it teaches you a tremendous amount about yourself, your team and what you can do together,” he said.
“This isn’t just a football thing, this is an extracurricular thing,” said Kimberly Burkhart, president of the Cooperstown youth football program. “We don’t want to lose these kids through the cracks.”
“I’m also a product of the football program,” said Hartwick resident Matt Phillips. “If it weren’t for the football program here at Cooperstown, I wouldn’t have come to school. The extracurriculars — speaking on behalf of not only football, but others, too — that’s what drives a lot of students like myself.”
Phillips said his 10-year-old daughter, Leah, has played football since she was in first grade.
“Her hope is to continue all the way up, right through varsity, and she talks of playing in the NFL someday,” he said to a round of applause.
Addressing the possibility of combining the girls and boys varsity swim teams, Cooperstown resident Frank Panzarella said his daughter, Emma, has “grown tremendously” as a member of the team.
“We have a group of amazing young women who have been swimming together probably since they were 8 years old; who have a tremendous sense of connection and competition,” he said. “We are looking at a group of women who are being asked not to have the boys come into their league, but the girls have to sacrifice going to the boys’.”
“I’m not sure that’s really fair to women in our community and in our school,” Panzarella continued. “For what it’s worth in terms of maybe a few less bus rides we’re going to save in money, is it worth having that impact upon our female athletes? I hope not.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.