Smithtown backs off proposal to split cross-country team
Smithtown Schools Superintendent James Grossane announced at a board of education meeting Tuesday that he and Athletic Director Patrick Smith, upon the request of the board, would remove the proposal from Smith’s athletic budget that would split the unified East and West cross-country team. Grossane said that the team would remain together for the 2016-17 school year, and the idea of splitting would be revisited during budget season next year.
The idea to split the team, which is one of four sports in the district that has athletes from both high schools on one team, was presented by Smith as a means for more student athletes to play a key role, which would in turn get them more opportunities to earn college scholarships.
“It’s based on the philosophy of the district,” Smith said in an interview last week. “We wanted to provide more opportunities for our kids.”
Sophomore runner Matthew Tullo, who has filled the role of spokesperson for the effort to keep the team together, addressed the board again Tuesday.
“As you can tell, it really means a lot to all of us,” Tullo said, referencing the numerous boys and girls cross-country participants, who have been well represented at board of education meetings for the last month. “It’s really amazing, and I really appreciate everyone involved deciding to keep us together. On behalf of the Smithtown cross-country team, I’d like to say thank you for listening to us for the four weeks. I know we were kind of annoying. I’d like to say thank you for keeping our team—actually, keeping our family — together. It really means a lot.”
School Board President Christopher Alcure responded to Tullo’s comments.
“The board listened across the last four or so weeks,” Alcure said. The board asked Grossane and Smith to reconsider the split following a budget workshop on March 15.
“From the board I will say this: you made us very proud,” Alcure added. “You were very articulate, very respectful. We’re very proud of what the teachers do in our district in terms of not only the educational and instructional side of things, but they teach you the ways of life and how to be respectful and how to handle yourself in front of a big crowd. We’re happy to keep it together for you guys.”
Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body for athletics, encourages districts with more than one high school to split any combined teams that are not under budgetary, facility or participation constraints. The Smithtown cross-country team has none of those issues. However, it is only encouraged. It is not a mandate. Gymnastics, swimming and bowling are the other Smithtown sports that have a unified East and West team.
“The team is a family, yet it is also an identifying aspect of our community, and keeping it combined simply makes sense,” junior runner Samantha Catalano said at a board meeting March 8. The team started an online petition that had 1,159 signatures at the time this was written.