Board approves some Buc athletes’ return to play

The above screenshot shows a slide of a PowerPoint presentation by Oswego City School District Superintendent Dr. Mathis Calvin III. The Board of Education on Friday voted 4-3 to reinstate varsity athletics for four sports.

OSWEGO — Four varsity sports will commence at Oswego High School this week after a split vote Friday by the Board of Education.

The Oswego City School District (OCSD) board, along with Superintendent Dr. Mathis Calvin III, could not come to a satisfactory conclusion on the issue of fall sports participation during its regular meeting earlier in the week, and so tabled the discussion for further examination.

Friday’s special meeting to re-address the topic was held via Zoom conference and saw more than 90 minutes of additional debate on whether to bring back athletics at all, and if so, how many and for whom.

“Our priority is safety first,” said board member Tom Ciappa. “We’re seeing the college reports (of spiking cases necessitating a Friday suspension of in-person classes), so let’s wait and see what’s going to happen before we introduce another potential network for spreading COVID.”

Ciappa and fellow board members Lynda Sereno and Jim McKenzie voted against the motion of the day, which would support the return of six teams: boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross county, boys golf and girls tennis, all exclusively at the varsity level. Currently, those are the only sports approved by state officials for return to play this fall. While board members raised concerns about the danger of coronavirus and also about unduly excluding some students from participation, in the words of board member Pam Dowd, having zero district participation in fall sports would be “stagnant.”

“We’d be standing still, and we have to start going forward. I can’t support standing still,” Dowd said. “These student athletes need to be with their cohorts.”

New health regulations require a number of new and expensive components if schools decide to participate in athletics including custodial services, signage, additional bleacher markings, a nurse on duty, a hand washing station, cleaning equipment and, with the largest price tag of all, new regulations on transportation.

The regular cost for a season of boys and girls soccer, with a total of 112 participants, is roughly $10,200, according to Calvin, but with added pandemic expenses that cost has ballooned to $57,000. The additional financial hit of all six teams combined would be roughly $150,000.

“Not only does this keep the cost component a little more manageable, but also in terms of health and safety it would be a lot more manageable for us and staff to handle,” said Calvin, adding he thinks the district can most safely manage varsity only at this time.

Board President Heather DelConte and Dowd, along with board members Kathleen Allen and Lisa Glidden, cast affirmative votes and carried the motion to fund and support the proposed four fall sports.

“Varsity-only is a good compromise because we can start out slow, and figure it out with the older student athletes then brainstorm other ways we can serve students in an equitable manner and meet their social and emotional needs,” said DelConte.

In a message directed to patrons and enthusiasts in the arts, theater and marching band, Calvin said he wanted them to know the district has “not forgotten you” and promised to “visit other areas as we move forward.”

Buccaneer Athletics Director Rhonda Bullard said she believed the district would be able to create a "viable, competitive schedule." Of Oswego County's nine school districts, the Fulton City School District and the Sandy Creek Central School District have opted out completely from fall sports.

A recording of Friday’s meeting can be located on the WBUC YouTube and Dr. Calvin’s report presentation can be viewed on Board Docs via the district website. Varsity athletes can register for sports in the sign-up portal on Oswego.org, officials said, and will then be contacted regarding practice schedule and other logistics.

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