In a move that split the board — and divided the community, as well — supporters of a plan to extend the Gasconade County R-1 football program into Middle School succeeded Thursday night.
The R-1 Board of Directors voted 4-3 to join four other school districts in the Four Rivers Conference to bring 7th- and 8th-Grade football under the umbrella of the statewide activities organization that governs public schools’ athletics.
A proposal to make 7th- and 8th-Grade football part of the Hermann High School football program has been simmering throughout the summer. It was first proposed to the R-1 Board earlier this year, apparently originating from Pacific and St. Clair.
However, R-1 officials didn’t want to commit to the move until some of the other districts in the Four Rivers Conference had acted.
As the St. James and Union districts approved the plan, that left Hermann, Sullivan and Gasconade County R-2. Sullivan and Gasconade R-2 (Owensville) reportedly weren’t planning on voting on the proposal, satisfied with their middle school players’ participation in the independent youth football league.
R-1 Board Vice President Mark Brooks looked out at the large crowd on hand — an unusual turnout for a school board meeting. Among many of the Hermann Youth Football coaches and supporters he saw those he had coached in earlier years.
“You have to understand how difficult this decision is,” he said to supporters and opponents of the move.
The motion to approve the proposal was made by Mike Pratte; Brooks seconded the motion. Also voting in favor of the proposal were Craig Schannuth and Board President Becky Whithaus.
The three voting against the move were Kevin Stiers, Dot Schoennig and Jeff Englert.
Speaking in favor of bringing the Middle School players under the district’s football umbrella was Assistant Principal and Activities Director Todd Anderson. “It’s what we feel is best for the students,” he said.
Likewise, football Head Coach Andy Emmons told the board the effort to expand the district’s football program is about more sports. “I’m looking at this as an educator,” he said. “It’s not just about Xs and Os. I look at is as what I see as being best for the kids.”
Primary arguments in favor of the move is that Middle School players will benefit from having contact with the high school coaches and will be familiar with the program by the time they get to high school.
Also, having them part of the program means that coaches that track their grades and work more closely with the players in keeping up their classroom work.
Superintendent Tracey Hankins, who usually offers a recommendation on such significant actions to be taken by the directors, did not do so on this matter. Indeed, her comments during the discussion were limited, mainly noting that the proposal did not originate within the R-1 District.
(See Hankin’s Bearcat Briefs column in this edition. She discusses at length the reasons that were outlined for supporting the move.)
Hermann Youth Football President Darrel Boyer outlined the points of a letter sent prior to the board’s vote to keep the 7th- and 8th-Grade players part of the youth league, saying there was no need to make the change.
He pointed out that the youth league is “not tax-based and has been successful for about 20 years.”
Indeed, Emmons, who is on the youth league board, had only good things to say about the Hermann Youth Football volunteers. “They’ve done a lot of positive things,” Emmons said.
But, the coach noted, making the Middle School players part of the district’s program means their families won’t have to pay $100 — and sell another $100 worth of items — to help pay for the ability to play. The district’s sports fee is $25 a student with a maximum of $50 for families with more than one student in sports.
Having a lower cost per student could allow more students to play, supporters said.
Boyer noted that the $100 fee has not prevented youths from playing. “We’ve never turned a kid away,” Boyer said.
Others opposed to the move cited the cost that will be incurred by the taxpayers.
“My issue with the whole thing is the money,” said Dawn Page, the mother of a 3rd grader who plays in the youth league. “I pay a lot of taxes,” she added.
She questioned the action of taking on more debt shortly after the district won a 50-cent property tax increase. “Not only will it make our school district look bad,” she said, but the move will foster resentment within the community.
Indeed, it did. Hours after the board approved the proposal, social media lit up with comments critical of the action.
Another opponent, Trece Page, noted the support given by the community to the district and questioned whether such a move will hamper fund-raising efforts. Trece Page is involve with Blue & White Night, a program that since 2011 has raised $189,000 for R-1.
“Where does it stop?” Trece Page asked, regarding the additional costs of extending the football program to the Middle School. “We don’t need to take more money from our kids. They need it for their education.”
What will it cost to bring Middle School players into the district football program?
R-1 officials estimate the the first-year cost will be about $16,500 with ongoing costs ranging from $8,000-$12,000 a year.