By VINCE PELUSO
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
Freshmen teams in Ashtabula County are akin to dinosaurs. Look through a trophy case that holds trophies from freshmen leagues or tournaments and the trophies are about as old as fossils.
Budget cuts and lack of funding have made freshmen teams nearly impossible for athletic departments to maintain and that’s what the Lakeside Dragons are currently facing.
The reality of not having freshmen sports for the 2013-14 sports seasons hit one Lakeside parent, Kim George, particularly hard.
“On the night of the eighth-grade boys basketball championships, I’m sitting on the bench and I see our boys walking in and they all look sad,” she recalled. “I went over and asked them, ‘why are you all looking so sad?’ Then most of the 15 players said the same thing ‚ ‘this is the last game we will play together. We’ve been together for three years, we won’t have freshmen sports.’
“They have formed a bond, they were a family. My heart broke for them. I told them we have great parents, very involved parents. We will make this happen.”
So, from that game, the ever-impatient George immediately called Lakeside athletic director Rob McGruder to discuss the issue.
She scheduled further meetings with McGruder and superintendent Pat Colucci looking for a solution to the problem.
Then, she received a call from Cory and Amy Nagle, who also had a plan.
From there, they created the “Saving Freshmen Sports” committee, dedicated to raising funds to help the Dragons keep their freshmen athletic teams.
“The idea of not having freshmen teams is not acceptable to me,” George said at a meeting for the committee on Thursday night. “We can’t let our kids down. If we don’t step up and do something, then we’re letting them down.”
“When we learned of the cuts concerning freshmen sports, we were driven to help stop this from happening,” Cory Nagle said. “We can change our future, but not the past. Our students are our future, we see the potential of the students and we feel they deserve the respect and praise from the community.”
The committee held an open-forum meeting Thursday to discuss how it’s going to come up with the funds necessary to support freshmen teams for not only a the 2013-14 season, but beyond.
The current goal is approximately $25,000, with $2,100 being raised in the first 24 hours of the committee’s formation.
The first event Saving Freshmen Sports will hold will be the first annual “I Believe in Lakeside” basketball game on April 12 at the junior high gymnasium at 6 p.m.
The game will match seventh- and eighth-grade players against their parents and local adults. Entrance to the game is $2, with donations accepcted.
“There will be a lot of surprises, we look forward to seeing everyone,” Nagle said.
Fans often take for granted how much it really costs to run an athletic team.
“Busing, officials, workers for the game all cost money,” McGruder said. “Really, the biggest hit is transportation and paying the coaches. We’ve looked at different ways to cut costs. We had tripleheaders within the league to help save costs.”
A rough estimate to just fund boys basketball and football for next year is $11,850. McGruder believes Saving Freshmen Sports needs to come up with the necessary funds for the football team by July 30 if it wants to have a season.
Currently, parents at Lakeside have to pay a $250 activity fee per student per sport. That could get reduced and freshmen sports could return without additional funding if an upcoming levy is passed.
Regardless of levies, with people who have the passion of George in charge, it isn’t hard to imagine the group will come up with the funds to keep Lakeside freshmen teams for the long haul.
But, George can’t do it alone.
Those who are interested in helping the cause can contact George at 228-4683, co-chair Cory Nagle at 813-4336 or co-chair Maureen Vaught at 812-8465. Checks for the cause can be made payable to Lakeside Athletic Boosters with “Saving Freshmen Sports” on the memo line.
The next meeting for Saving Freshmen Sports will be Monday, March 11 at 6 p.m. at Lakeside.
Peluso is a sports writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.