The Smithtown boys and girls cross-country team is facing the possibility of a split, following the release of Athletic Director Patrick Smith’s budget for 2016-17 which includes a recommendation to separate the one unified team to create individual high school East and West teams. Cross-country is one of four sports in the district that includes athletes from both East and West on one unified team. An online petition to keep the team together had more than 1,100 signatures at the time of this publication.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Smith said that Section XI, Suffolk County’s sports-governing body, encourages the district to split any combined teams within districts with multiple high schools that are not under budgetary, facility or participation constraints. Smith said that none of those factors are a problem for Smithtown cross-country at this time. He recommended splitting the teams as a means to create more opportunities for student athletes. Section XI recommends splitting teams when possible, though Smith said it is not a mandate.
“It’s based on the philosophy of the district,” Smith said. “We wanted to provide more opportunities for kids.”
Smith said allowing more athletes the chance to be starters and share in the spotlight if the teams were separated would only increase the community- and family-feel that the athletes have said they fear losing. Smith also said thinking behind the change was to provide chances for more athletes to earn interest, and ultimately scholarships, from colleges.
Members of the team and parents have attended the last two school board meetings, on Feb. 23 and Tuesday, to voice their opinions about the potential split. About 40 members of the team and the community stood in solidarity with the athletes who spoke during the public commentary period of the meeting Tuesday.
“We, as athletes, find this decision to be devastating to our sport,” sophomore runner Matthew Tullo said on Feb. 23. “Our sport has a sense of community we have created by being unified by the Smithtown team.”
Tullo addressed the board again Tuesday night.
“We just want to know why this is happening,” Tullo said. “We don’t understand it. We’re a family. We act as one. We’re closest as friends can be, and to split this up, it’s nonsense. We all, standing here, showing our support, it should be moving.”
Junior cross-country runner Samantha Catalano expressed a similar sentiment on Tuesday, suggesting that East and West are rivals in most sports. Cross-country, gymnastics, swimming and bowling are the only high school sports that have one team for the two high schools.
“The team is a family, yet it is also an identifying aspect of our community, and keeping it combined simply makes sense,” Catalano said.
The district’s Assistant Superintendent for Personnel, Karen Ricigliano, and Smith said the director plans to address the athlete’s concerns publicly at a board work session on Tuesday, March 15. The decision to split or keep the team unified will ultimately be decided by a school board vote.