The Ellwood City Little Wolverines were supposed to play three games on Sunday afternoon. The day was to be the organization’s Senior Night for Sixth Graders.
However, following the Junior Varsity game on Saturday, Athletic Director Darin Morella chose to cancel the PowderPuff games scheduled for 4 p.m. and the Little Wolverines games on Sunday. The games were relocated to Central Valley. According to the ECLW, this resulted in lower attendance, an estimated loss of $4810 and destroyed the spirit of Senior Night.
According to School Board Vice President LeRoy Cortez, the decision was both a financial and safety concern. Cortez said that several years ago the football field was severely damaged from playing too many games in wet conditions, ultimately resulting in about $20,000 in repairs the following spring.
“We don’t have the option of putting extra money into our fields every year,” Cortez said.
Over 30 parents and children from the ECLW attended the school board’s agenda meeting yesterday, presenting a written statement of questions and complaints regarding not only the decision to cancel the game, but the fundamentals of the relationship between the ECLW and the Ellwood City School District.
According to the statement, the Senior Night games were originally scheduled for Saturday, but Powder Puff’s request for the field took precedent. ECLW President Pat O’brien subsequently made arrangements to play on Sunday. On Saturday afternoon, He received a notification of the cancellation through an official from the Beaver County Youth Football League.
Cortez, who served as acting president for the first half of the meeting as President Michael Neupeaur had prior business obligations, said that although the decision was unfortunate, the board supports the Athletic Director’s action, which was done through proper channels. Kirk Lape, who as principal of Lincoln High is the Head of Athletics, was informed and approved of the decision, as was Superintendent Joe Mancini.
ECLW members were not pleased with this response, with several visitors stating that a varsity game would never be cancelled due to rain or muddy conditions from the previous day’s rain. Cortez said that just a few weeks ago, the home game versus Quaker Valley was cancelled after Quaker Valley had arrived, although this cancellation was due to lightning.
Visitors also wanted to know why Helling Stadium could not be used, but other districts hadn’t cancelled activities that weekend.
“We aren’t responsible for what other schools do,” Cortez responded.
When a handful of visitors began making general statements that the field belongs to the taxpayers, Board Member Bob Stevenson immediately countered with, “We’re taxpayers too. Don’t get into that.”
Cortez said, “There are thousands of taxpayers in the district, and we have to make decisions for all of them. We have a budget to work with, and as unpleasant as it is, sometimes we have to make decisions that negatively impact people.”
Cortez also said that additional options had been presented to the ECLW, specifically using the practice field or playing the games individually Monday through Wednesday.
ECLW coach Doug Houg said the practice field is not safe for children, as the fence is too close to the sideline. O’Brien added that the field is ineligible by League code because it doesn’t have a scoreboard and that playing the games over three days was not practical.
Houg asked the Board, “What would we have done if another field couldn’t be found?”
Cortez declined to answer the question on the grounds that it was hypothetical.
Visitor Peri Malcolm said the school district had disrespected their future varsity football players and that her grandson was so upset he couldn’t come to the meeting.
“These kids bust their butts at practice and play their hearts out,” she said, adding that she never sees board members or administration at the games supporting the players. Malcolm asked that the players be allowed to speak.
Sixth Grader Donovan Stiffler heeded this call and said, “It was our Senior Night. Our time to shine. Why couldn’t we have our time to shine?”
Beyond the cancellation, the ECLW’s written statement had many questions regarding treatment of the ECLW.
Cortez said the Board will address the problems, many of which he had been unaware of, and get back to the ECLW.
“There’s nothing we can say to change or make up what happened,” Cortez said, “But hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to have more communication between the Board and the ECLW.”