I never thought I'd live to see the day when Octorara would have a football team. But faced with a proposed agreement formulated by the sports boosters, which precludes any tax implications for the first three years of the program, my money is on the school board giving it approval next Monday.
Seeking school board sanction, the booster's proposed agreement with the district has fans assuming full financial responsibility for the first three years of the program. If at any time the boosters fail to meet this commitment, the directors may shut it down. At the end of the trial, when the district could potentially field a varsity team, directors will decide whether to take the leap to some measure of public financing.
Apparently summing up the sentiments of many of his colleagues, Director Brian Norris said at Monday's work session of the board: "This is a win-win situation." Until Monday, Norris appeared ambivalent, just as likely to side with assumed majority taxpayer opinion in opposition, as with fans in support. But remove the tax implications and any directors' principal reason for opposition evaporates.
A couple of residents who it appeared had come to the board's work session to oppose the proposed program relented in favor on realizing that, at least for the first three years, football would cost them nothing. Board President Duane Hershey, though, stood his ground, saying he could not see himself backing the plan in face of the deluge of calls he has received from residents in opposition.
Hershey's informal poll results may be more a function of the fact that the boosters, under the judicious leadership of Paul Solomon, agreed early in their campaign not to plague directors with phone calls in support. Now they are faced with the dilemma of contravening that concession and making their case directly to directors, or leaving the proposed agreement to speak for itself... a conundrum befitting a Solomon. (A personal note: Paul, if I was you, and as disciplined as your members have been up to this the 11th hour, I'd let the dogs out.)
What am I saying? What am I doing giving potentially helpful advice to those who would bring a sport to Octorara that I have for the past 20 years vociferously opposed? But how do you justify rejection when the boosters have taken it upon themselves, without qualification, to pay for the whole deal themselves? At the end of the trial, as Director Pete Mango pointed out, the system of school financing may be less dependent on property taxes and allow for district participation.
But as several residents noted Monday, tax implications are not the sole consideration. As they make up their minds, directors should beware the law of unintended consequences. Octorara is still a small district and as result the pool of potential players of any sport is equally small. Slotting in a third, and perhaps overlapping sport with the current fall/winter offerings, could gut existing teams. Soccer and cross-country, even basketball, could be adversely effected.
Whether by coincidence or design, Octorara's Athletics Director, Jim Weagley, announced Monday that Octorara would not field a varsity baseball team this season for lack of players. Weagley fears demoralization of the team if the sport proceeds with the few boys signed up. Similarly, folks have wondered aloud what will happen to football if the team goes down to consistent defeat. Pequea School District's football program is currently under scrutiny for this very reason.
Thus, the danger exists that Octorara could sanction football and unwittingly precipitate destruction of rival sports vying for participants, programs that took years of nurturing. If then football failed, Octorara could be left nursing the remnants of a once accomplished sports program. A tax hawk's dream coming true: no sports at all.
The boosters having gotten their foot in the door and counting on the program's success are probably banking on the momentum of residents' interest to project them toward some degree of tax-based financing in year four. Given that football stirs the competitive juices like no other school sport, could a future board stare down such a committed fan base just as it's rejoicing at the prospect of fielding a fully-fledged varsity team?
If not, the next question, even now lingering in the wings, will be whether or not to build a football stadium. Existing site plans for the recently purchased 100-acre plot designated for the new 5th/6th grade building tentatively makes space for one. Although an unlikely prospect, current estimates for construction of a stadium are put at about $1 million.
A remote prospect perhaps, but as I said, I never thought I'd live to see the day when football would be played at Octorara. Yet my money says its about to be.