WM soccer

Holly Sauer of Hermitage speaks to the West Middlesex School Board about the girls varsity soccer team Monday evening at the board’s monthly meeting.

WEST MIDDLESEX — A capacity crowd attended Monday’s West Middlesex School Board meeting to hear the district’s explanation for disbanding the girls varsity soccer team.

Even though the Big Reds’ fate wasn’t on the meeting agenda, players, coaches and parents turned out to support the team, which will be folded into the boys varsity soccer team. The district athletic department decided Aug. 12, after the girls soccer team’s first practice, to dissolve the squad this season because it did not meet the minimum of 15 students participating.

Before the meeting’s public comment period, Superintendent Raymond Omer apologized for the possibility that district officials did a poor job of communicating the decision or that the decision left the athletes with hurt feelings.

“What we wanted to do was give the girls the opportunity to physically participate, and possibly get the program going again next year,” Omer said.

Under the district’s collective bargaining agreement with teachers, certain athletic teams must meet minimum roster standards by the season’s first game. The standard for boys and girls soccer is 15 players.

However, school officials opted to use the date of the team’s first practice as the deadline because waiting until the first game to cut the team would have left other teams with vacancies in their schedules, Omer said.

“We cannot wait until the first game of the year to tell the other school districts that we have to break schedules with them,” Omer said. “The students are expected to be ready to play on the first day of camp, not people who want to play or will have their safety paperwork in at a later date.”

Holly Sauer, an indoor soccer coach at the Y-Zone in New Castle, spoke on behalf of those in the audience and argued in favor of maintaining the team.

“These girls have worked their butts off, and they’ve practiced during the off-season which a lot of people don’t notice, even though they were told they might not have a team to play on,” Sauer said.

In particular, Sauer asked why other sports weren’t being held to the same standard as the girls team, such as the cross-country team which lists a minimum of 50 participants.

“I was at their meet the other day and there weren’t 50 kids there,” Sauer said.

She said the district has made exceptions for other teams that were failing to meet the minimum number of students. Omer said those were usually cases where the shortfall was one or two students, whereas the girls varsity soccer team had only 10 students at practice Aug. 12.

A soccer team fields 11 players at a time during matches.

Sauer said three students would have attended practice that day but were on vacation, arguing that the students don’t have a say when their parents take vacation and it can be difficult for families to schedule their off-time for vacations. Omer said the number of students who attended the first day of soccer camp reflected the level of dedication toward participation, both by students and parents.

“As the father of two varsity athletes, our lives revolved around their desire to play that sport,” Omer said.

Sauer said the girls team members continued to practice and participate in the team even though they were allegedly told by school officials that the girls team could be cut. Board President Tracy Hemminger said the rumors regarding a possible cutting of the girls varsity team were not new.

“My daughter played on the team about five years ago, and that was something being discussed back then,” Hemminger said.

Sheila Porterfield, whose daughter is playing on the soccer team, said she has contacted the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Civil Rights Office in Philadelphia to determine if there had been a Title IX gender equity compliance issue.

Board member Theodore Hennessy said he would like to see public participation at every board meeting, not just the ones where sports is an issue.

“Last year when we furloughed a teacher, nobody cared. When we raised taxes, nobody was here,” Hennessy said. “But when it’s a sport, it’s standing-room only in here.”

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