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Jan 21, 2015 1:44 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Parents, Community Members Question Future Of Sports At East Hampton Athletic Forum

Jan 27, 2015 2:27 PM

Parents of current and former athletes sounded off to the East Hampton School Board at a forum last week about the lack of school spirit among students and the constant turnover in coaches—the latter, they said, ultimately leading to the death of East Hampton High School’s varsity football program.

The forum, held Tuesday, January 20, was planned as a conversation about the future of all athletic programs in the district. When it was over, school district officials said they were open to the idea of reviving the football program next year, if there is enough interest and commitment.

School officials said they decided not to field a varsity football team in 2014 because of a lack of interest among students. “We had 60 kids last year, which made our decision to cut varsity based on participation,” Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo said, explaining that the number of students wanting to try out for the football team was nearly half of what it had been in previous years. “This isn’t a funding issue. It’s a participation issue. We didn’t cut it out of a budget to save money. We did it for player safety.”

With so few kids on a team, he added, the number of player substitutes drops significantly, increasing the likelihood of injuries. He noted that students were instead expressing interest in other sports like swimming and cross country.

The issue of declining interest in football is not isolated to East Hampton. Nationwide, high school football participation dropped 2.3 percent from the 2008-09 season to the 2012-13 season, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. And, according to an NBC and Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent of Americans with children said they would encourage their child to play a sport other than football.

And there are other concerns. Shoreham/Wading River varsity football player Tom Cutinella died last October after suffering an on-field head injury. He was the third high school football player across the country to die within a week from injuries suffered during a game.

But parents who spoke at last week’s forum countered that the lack of participation and a shift in interest was, in fact, a symptom and not a cause—and they said it was a response to a failed coaching system and the lack of program building.

“My question is, does the coaching bring out the best in the kids?” Bill Fleming, a parent and local attorney, asked the board. “A coach has a kid for about 10 hours a week, for 12 weeks. That’s a lot of time … What is the criteria? Who evaluates the coach?”

Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said he interacts with coaches on a near daily basis, and all coaches hired go through an extensive application process to ensure that they are a good fit for the position. However, he said he was open to any ideas that community members might have to help find qualified applicants.

The lack of participation also could be a result of declining parental involvement, offered Chris Stewart, a youth lacrosse coach with elementary-age sons in the district.

“The sports at the school and the town aren’t exclusive,” he said. “The programs here only exist because of youth sports, and it goes in waves. When you have a lot of parents involved, the programs thrive and succeed. It’s a lot of commitment. So I put it back to all the parents right now—you guys make the sports in this town. We’ve got to marry the town and school together.”

Samone Johnson, the varsity cheerleading coach and a paraprofessional at East Hampton High School, agreed, noting that the rapport, or lack thereof, between players and coaches stemmed directly from parents’ input.

“When parents bad-talk coaches in Starbucks or Waldbaum’s, kids hear that,” she said. “I heard somebody in Starbucks saying four months ago that they were going to try and get Joe [Vasile-Cozzo] fired. Kids hear that.”

School Board members told parents they would support a varsity football team next year if students are interested. They will continue working with Mr. Vasile-Cozzo to determine whether a varsity team is feasible for the 2015-16 school year.

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Jan 21, 15 7:12 PM
If you have a child in EH you should pay attention to the fall out from this meeting.
By Woods woman (145), East hampton on Jan 21, 15 8:40 PM
The Superintendent is a good man but he doesn't make waves and embraces the status quo. Dynamic leadership is needed. Make Vas retire, bring in coaches that know what they are doing, not the "old school" connected losers who recycle themselves over and over. Bring in parents who care. LET THE BEST PLAYERS PLAY. Then we will have a community that reawakes to the value of high school sports.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Jan 21, 15 8:50 PM
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Jan 26, 15 10:27 AM
The athletes will follow the program that has the most success and coaches who are noble. Some of the youth programs just turn off the kids. Having fun and working hard can exist. Some of the coaches in the youth programs think they really know what they are doing…..Well they have …just look at the sports that have no problem fielding a team..
By sag runner (24), Easthampton on Jan 26, 15 8:57 PM
Perhaps if the East Hampton coaches and the Athletic director would reach out to physical education teachers in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton, and really recruit in those schools ... all athletic teams in East Hampton that have multi-school players would benefit.
By JudithLankau (1), Ithaca, New York on Jan 29, 15 4:28 PM
Once again no accountability from AD Vas and his crony coaches and our school board.
By Woods woman (145), East hampton on Jan 29, 15 8:26 PM