BLOOMINGDALE - The Saranac Lake school board voted Wednesday to create a modified cross-country ski team.
The move came after school officials learned the district was violating state regulations by allowing middle school students to practice and compete with the varsity cross-country team.
"The practice has been to allow middle school students to tag along with the varsity ski team," district Athletic Director Mark Farmer said at Wednesday's school board meeting, which was held at Bloomingdale Elementary School. "In fact, that's out of compliance with New York state rules. If your students are going to participate in a sport, the sport has to be established by the district and you have to assign supervision. You can't have an unofficial team."
Saranac Lake’s Elena Beideck kicks off at the start of NYSPHSAA skate skiing championships Feb. 27 at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
(Enterprise file photo — Mike Lynch)
Board member Clyde Baker noted that middle school students compete on other varsity teams on a regular basis, but Farmer said that's only allowed if the student passes what's called a selective qualification test that measures their maturity and skill level.
Baker said the simple solution would be to create a modified cross-country team. He suggested it be done for a year so it can be evaluated at the end of the season.
Superintendent Gerald Goldman said the board could do that, but it would also have to appoint a volunteer coach who would work under the supervision of the varsity cross-country coach, Randy Young. Keith Kogut, a music teacher at the high school, has volunteered to fill that position, local parent Laura Jean Swanson told the board.
Goldman cautioned the board about creating a paid coaching position.
"There's a long line of athletes and families who wish we had programs that had paid coaches, bussing and so on," Goldman said. "If we can do this without doing that, I think it's a win-win solution."
Farmer noted, however, that by creating a modified cross-country team, the board would be bypassing an advisory committee it created to look at adding or getting rid of sports teams. He also said creating even a volunteer coaching position could lead to "entanglements" with the teachers' union and that it should be posted before its given to one person.
"I think we're aware of those entanglements," said board President Debra Lennon. "But I also think that if there's no extra expense, we don't have to have another bus, and if kids want to practice and become Nordic cross-country athletes, we should encourage them to participate."
But board member Esther Arlan said the board should wait to hear its advisory committee's recommendations on this and other sports before taking action.
"I think it would be prudent to do it in an orderly fashion," she said.
Baker and board member Katie Fischer said they didn't want to wait, as the varsity team's season begins Dec. 1.
"Cross-country skiing is right around the corner," Fischer said. "This is a lifelong sport for these kids, and we all want them outside skiing in the fresh air."
The board's two student representatives, Nick Mann and Julia Murray also weighed in, supporting the effort to create a modified team.
"You have an opportunity to maintain a program that produces Olympic-caliber athletes at zero cost," Mann said.
Several parents whose children have been involved in the program showed up at Wednesday's meeting after hearing that middle schoolers wouldn't be allowed to participate in cross-country this year. They asked the board to find a way to keep them in the program.
"We think it's highly valuable and we support that the modified be able to continue," said Susan Parker, whose two daughters participated in the program. "It would be really a shame to take it away."
"We have a strong program," said Maria DeAngelo, a middle school teacher. "We have a program that's huge at this point, and these kids want to be out there, and that is because of the coaching and volunteering that's been going on. I feel like we need to support that."
The board voted 6 to 1 to create the modified team for a year, contingent on the district providing a volunteer coach. Arlan cast the lone no vote.
Although the board's next meeting isn't until Dec. 5, after the cross-country season is scheduled to start, Goldman said he can appoint a coach on a provisional basis and the board can sign off on it later.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.