West Xtra: Sto-Rox weighs options for 2014

HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS

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On June 28, a day after announcing the Sto-Rox School District was eliminating the high school's softball and baseball teams as part of budget cuts that also saw eight teachers get furloughed, school board president Elizabeth Smith said her job was to consider every student in the school district, not just the athletes affected by the cuts.

"There are probably 35 to 40 kids who play softball or baseball and I feel for them, I really do," Smith said. "But I have to be the advocate for 1,400 students, and we have 700 students who are losing their librarian. So some things have to be cut."

But it still raises the question: What will the returning and incoming baseball and softball players for the Vikings do in wake of the news?

One option would be for Sto-Rox to enter into a co-operative agreement with a neighboring school such as Montour, Northgate, Avonworth, Moon or Cornell. Such agreements have been sanctioned by the WPIAL and its overseeing body, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, for years.

Smith said last week she planned on having acting superintendent Frank Dalmas contact Cornell about the possibility of Sto-Rox players playing for the Raiders in both those sports.

This option has a few obstacles, however. First, Cornell, or any of the other schools, would have to agree to enter into the co-op agreement.

Second, the school taking in Sto-Rox would have to be in position to take on the Vikings' enrollment figures without bumping it up in classification. The WPIAL currently is in the middle of a two-year cycle for classification, and because of that, schools are unable to enter into co-op agreements that bump it up in classification.

Another option for the Sto-Rox students would be to transfer. But according to PIAA rules, athletes aren't allowed to transfer for athletic purposes.

The Sto-Rox case is an interesting case, however, because baseball and softball players will not have another option to play their sport at their school.

"If a school drops their entire athletic program, then our bylaws say that athletes are allowed to transfer without being deemed ineligible," WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. "However, Sto-Rox didn't drop its entire athletics program. It just dropped two sports. We'd have to bring it to the attention of the state and see how the rule is interpreted."

Article VI, Section 6 of the PIAA handbook stipulates that students who play for teams cut for budgetary reasons may transfer to contiguous schools if they properly fill out the transfer waiver request form.

In the same section, the handbook also states that "should the terminating school reinstate the terminated sport in a future year, a student who has transferred shall be permitted to transfer back to the terminating school and shall, without further action, be automatically eligible to participate in all sports at the terminating school."

So if at any point, Sto-Rox is able to reinstate its programs, anyone who did transfer could transfer back without a loss of eligibility.

Cheri Zielinski is the vice president of the Sto-Rox girls softball league and her daughter, Caitlyn, was a sophomore on the Vikings' softball team this past spring. Zielinski has another daughter, Rebecca, who will be a freshman in the fall.

Zielinski said she isn't sure what her daughters will do, but has talked to Sto-Rox players who have already been in conversations to leave the school.

"Some of the girls are likely going to transfer to Montour because they have family members there," Zielinski said. "That's fine and dandy.

"I don't think Montour or Cornell is going to take us in. And it's sad, because it may cost players scholarships to college."

Joe Giles was one such athlete who came through Sto-Rox and got a scholarship. After starring for the Vikings, Giles earned a scholarship to play baseball at Betheny College in West Virginia. Giles went 1-1 with a 1.52 earned-run average in 13 games (one start) as a freshman this spring for the Bison.

"If I was in this situation, I'd see what options are available and see what could possibly be done," Giles said. "If we have to do fundraising, so be it, but I'd want to do everything possible to play for Sto-Rox.

"But if I had to, I would switch schools. It would have to be my last option."

Giles' coach at Sto-Rox, Dave Rugh, is part of a push to try to save the programs. Rugh, who is also a McKees Rocks councilman, said he and a few others met this week in an effort to brainstorm ways to come up with the approximate $25,000 needed to save both softball and baseball.

"I know the district is stressed and I'm not downplaying education, because it is the most important thing," Rugh said. "But we're going to do everything we can to try and save the programs."

Because Sto-Rox hasn't formally written letters to its opponents announcing the elimination of their programs, O'Malley said Sto-Rox's baseball and softball teams are currently still part of the WPIAL schedule.

"Until Sto-Rox forms that letter and sends it out, we'll continue to have them on the schedule," O'Malley said. "I told them to wait until at least the fall, because they may find the funds to have the sports continue."

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