JV soccer among victims of school money woes

Posted: August 14, 2007

First days of practice are usually filled with hope and joy. Not so yesterday on the soccer field at Central High.

While the full extent is not yet known, the school district's eye-popping financial miseries have forced sports cuts this school year and boys' junior-varsity soccer is among the victims.

Count Fred Brannon and Bob Barthelmeh among the thoroughly hissed. Brannon is Central's varsity coach. Barthelmeh was the JV boss until his program ceased to exist.

The timing, you ask? Barthelmeh did not receive the word until last Thursday, when the PL's soccer chairman, Jack Creighton, was given the unenviable duty of delivering the distressing news, which he did via Brannon.

"When you're working for a school district that's $80 million in the hole, you know there are going to be cuts," Barthelmeh said. "You don't expect this, though, and especially not being told until right before your season is going to start.

"We got blindsided. We had no indication JV soccer was in jeopardy."

Barthelmeh points fingers directly at two recently departed district honchos: former CEO Paul Vallas and James Nevels, former chairman of the School Reform Commission.

"I'm really disgusted with those two," he said, noting that what's happening to the kids in this instance is "borderline criminal."

"Obviously, money was spent that wasn't there," Barthelmeh said. "Vallas leads the way and Nevels is supposed to make sure things are being done correctly. Now they're gone and we're left with this gigantic shortfall."

Brannon added: "All Vallas talked about was how we'd be 'given the resources to compete in the PIAA.' So now he's gone and we have no JV program. I'm just so upset about this."

After noting that 59 players showed up for yesterday's first workout, Brannon, whose teams have appeared in three of the last four Pub finals, added quickly, "Can someone explain how it's right for me to be supervising that many kids?"

Maybe half, he said, showed up fully expecting to be steered to the JV tryouts. All were stunned to hear news of the slicing and Brannon said he urged their parents to contact politicians with the hope of reversing the situation.

Brannon usually keeps 18-19 players on the varsity. He intends to up that number to close to 30 and he'll make no cuts until Week 2 "in case people come to their senses."

In a league where, honestly, doing barely above the minimum remains commonplace, especially at nonlofty levels, Central soccer goes full-bore. The varsity has nine nonleague games scheduled for this season and even the JV was slated to play a few.

Among fall sports, JV girls' volleyball also has been wacked. Robert Coleman, the district's director of athletics, has said that JV football and basketball would not be affected. He has declined to be more specific on other cuts, but lesser-light varsity sports such as swimming, gymnastics, bowling and golf are rumored to be in trouble.

Although his hands were financially tied, Coleman no doubt will encounter friction today from coaches and referees when he returns to work from vacation. JV soccer coaches, for instance, will be out an expected $4,000. Refs are already disgusted due to late payments after the winter and spring sports seasons.

A meeting of athletic directors and their district bosses is scheduled for tomorrow. Also, the School Reform Commission is to gather and ostensibly make final budget decisions that could affect the extent of the sports slicin'-and-dicin'.

"If these cuts stand, like always, the kids will be hurt the most," Brannon said. *

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