Public League waiting game

Athletic directors and coaches are hoping to get a reprieve on further program cuts as the district deals with a deficit.

Posted: August 15, 2007

With the School District of Philadelphia budget crunch set to take a bite out of the athletic programs, Public League coaches and athletic directors are bracing for further cuts.

The saving grace, however, could be today's School Reform Commission meeting, which is expected to deliver the final say on how the district plans to offset its $80 million deficit.

Because any future decisions on the sports budget would have to hinge on an SRC verdict, an athletic directors' supervisory meeting set for today has been postponed.

Public League officials are hoping this signals a reversal in policy.

"I was told to hold off on the schedules, so I'm going to be optimistic," said Jack Creighton, soccer chairman. "Hopefully, the SRC will do what's best for the kids."

As of today, the district has told boys' soccer and girls' volleyball coaches that their junior varsity programs for the fall have been scrapped, joining cadet (freshman) football as early casualties. However, there are rumblings that coed varsity-only sports - such as golf, swimming, gymnastics and bowling - are next on the chopping block.

Junior varsity sports in football and boys' and girls' basketball are expected to remain. Depending on what sports are cut, there could be implications with Title IX, legislation that covers equal opportunity for both genders.

Creighton was told last Wednesday by Robert Coleman, the district's athletic director, that the Public League's five junior varsity soccer programs (Central, George Washington, Lincoln, Masterman and Northeast) would have to cease. He told the coaches the next day. Most of the players didn't find out until Monday, the first day of practice.

"I don't know why Robert Coleman chose to make cuts at such a late date," said Fred Brannon, the soccer and gymnastics coach at Central.

Coleman could not be reached for comment.

Matt MacCready, a Central junior, arrived on Monday expecting to battle for a roster spot on the varsity and at least earn a position on a junior varsity.

"I figured either way I'd be playing soccer this year," said MacCready, a Northeast resident. "But Mr. Brannon told me I was right on the cutting line, so now I don't know. Now there's more stress."

Brannon said 59 players went out for the team. Normally he trims the varsity roster to 22. He hopes to raise that number to 28 or 30.

"If I don't make varsity I'll probably try out for another sport, like cross-country," MacCready said. "But it wouldn't be the same."

MacCready said that most of the players who get cut probably would not go out for another sport.

"We know what they're doing after school, where they are every afternoon," said Dave Leiber, the volleyball coach and athletic director at Masterman. "But what about now?"

In the mid-1990s, junior varsity programs across the board were cut for three years despite a public outcry.

"We've been here before," Creighton said. "The biggest casualty is if the freshmen don't get involved in something. Sports give them a reason to go to school and hang around the right kinds of kids."

When Paul Vallas was named CEO of the district in 2002, sports benefited financially as Vallas spearheaded the Public League's move into the PIAA. But many of the coaches were against the move, citing an uneven playing field with suburban schools.

"It makes me mad," said Bob Barthelmeh, at least for now formally the junior varsity soccer coach at Central. "It wasn't the coaches who wished to go into the PIAA. It was Paul Vallas who demanded it, and now he's gone, and we're still here."

With the Catholic League set to join the Public League in District 12 next year, any slashes made to the athletic programs could greatly affect what little chance the city teams have of competing against the powerful Catholic League squads.

"We were treated nicely by Paul Vallas the last four years, but now it seems things won't be going our way," Creighton said. "I guess when people are losing jobs downtown, they don't look at sports as being as important."


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane

at 215-854-4745

or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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