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H-C baseball to have first dibs on expanded field

| Sunday, May 6, 2012, 6:02 p.m.

HOMER CITY--Homer-Center's varsity baseball team expects to once again have a home field advantage this spring, as the school board voted support for expansion of the town's Junior Legion Field to also accommodate the high school program.

The board unanimously--Donna Gatskie was absent--pledged $60,000 to the $160,000 project--which involves extending the outfield fences to meet high school rules.

The vote was met by applause from about 18 H-C baseball players, coaches and parents.

"Tonight's a great day for baseball," said school board member Mark Bertig, the long-time Junior Legion coach who made the motion to proceed with the project.

"It's been three years since our team played an official home game," he said, noting the Wildcats lost use of a diamond at Graceton, due to the Rt. 119 widening project. Since then the team has traveled to White Township for "home" games.

"It's going to be a good opportunity for the students and the community," school board President Vicki Smith said of the expansion. "It will be a great way to bring people into the community," as spectators or as athletes.

She added that the board intends to invest public funds wisely in the baseball facility: "We try very hard as a board to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers."

District funding is contingent on the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources approving an $80,000 grant and on the Homer City Area Athletic Booster Club and other community groups raising at least $10,000.

In addition, for the project to work, the district will require a formal agreement with the Booster Club, which manages the Junior Legion field. The district wants long-term rights to use the facility, including first priority during the high school baseball season.

Junior Legion and Junior Little League teams both currently use the field.

District officials were uncertain whether the official applicant for the DCNR grant will be Center Township, which owns the 50-acre recreational site including the Junior Legion field, or the Homer-Center Parks and Recreation Board, which represents the school district, Center Township and Homer City Borough.

Homer City's FMC plant donated the site to the township for recreational use by area youth.

Bertig expressed confidence that the funding would be approved, noting the project has the support of state Sen. Don White, the Center Township supervisors and the Indiana County commissioners.

There was an urgency to act on the project last week, since Sept. 30 is the deadline for applying for the state funding.

Another $20,000 of in-kind services will help to match the state grant. Rick Martini, who has appeared before the board as a spokesman for the Homer-Center Baseball Parents Association, indicated equipment may be provided by the township and borough to help with such tasks as digging ditches and removing fence posts at the field.

With the initial resources available, "We're hoping to start construction this month," Bertig said.

Modeled on the high school baseball field at Punxsutawney, the new facility would include a distance of 340 feet to the center field fence, up from the current 330 feet, and 350 feet each to left center field and right center field, up from 302 feet.

The new fence would be 20 feet high in center field, six feet high elsewhere.

Bertig indicated approval of the DCNR grant, to be announced in the first part of 2006, would mean the difference between installing lights at the park or not.

Having the capability to stage night games, he said, would add to the flexibility of the facility: "We could accommodate everybody," including the local Senior American Legion team.

Homer-Center's team finished as the state runner-up in its division.

Interest in the team should be high again in 2006, especially with seven of 10 key players returning.

"My players are going to be really happy to have the opportunity to play in front of their own community," Coach Rob Stossel noted.

Bertig noted refitting the existing Junior Legion field will eliminate the cost of busing students to White Township. Also, it will be less expensive than developing a new field from scratch--which might cost as much as $250,000.

In personnel matters last week, the school board hired Nicole Iezzi of Homer City as a temporary professional employee at the elementary school, where she'll initially provide math instruction to small groups of students at a salary of $44,921 prorated to the number of days work. It's a role that would have been filled by Dr. Michele Williams, a veteran H-C instructor who recently was killed in a traffic collision.

According to Superintendent Dr. Joseph Marcoline, Iezzi is certified as a reading specialist and also has a master's degree in literacy, both earned at IUP. She previously has worked as a substitute teacher in several county districts.

Kevin Wolford was approved as a long-term substitute teacher, retroactive to Aug. 25. In addition to serving as the district's head custodian, Wolford also has completed training as an instructor.

He previously has filled in for the high school art teacher and recently has undergone training to serve as a driver's education instructor.

Elementary teacher Nancy Skultety was granted an unpaid leave Sept. 30 and Oct. 3.

Homer-Center exonerated district tax collectors for $948.76 in 2005 real estate taxes--representing the tax bills waived for local senior citizens who have performed volunteer services for the district.

Thomas B. Citeroni, Homer City tax collector, was authorized to attend the annual Tax Collector Convention Oct. 21-23 in York. The district will pay half of his $479.15 cost for attending.

High school English instructor Roxanne Rouse received permission to attend as a presenter at a Harrisburg teacher forum Monday and Tuesday. She recently was a runner-up in the state's Teacher Of The Year competition.

Jordin Schaffner, an alumnus of IUP's women's basketball program, was approved as a volunteer assistant coach for Homer-Center's girls' varsity hoops team.

Coaches of H-C's girls' softball team received permission to take players on a spring training trip to Florida next year. The trip will last for five days, three of them school days.

Fifteen adult chaperones were approved to accompany sixth graders on a field trip to Gettysburg Wednesday and Thursday: parents Stefanie Arone, Marcy Barna, Tom Citeroni, Tracy Galasso, Ted Hill, Lori Mumau, Richard Orr, Jerry Overman, Michael Panchik, Jodi Roser, Joanne Ruffner, Randy Thomas, Ronalae Townley, Lisa Vilcek, as well as retired sixth grade instructor Eugene Bicego. Current sixth grade teachers and the school nurse also will take part.

Director Karen Marshall and the marching band will travel to the Blairsville football field Oct. 1 and to Indiana Stadium Oct. 15 for two Bandfest events.

Homer-Center School District, with an eye toward meeting future student assessment standards, is preparing to beef up its elementary science curriculum.

At last week's meeting, the school board hired a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, Alcalde and Fay, to help the district in its quest for federal grants--particularly funding which will support enhanced science programs.

According to Superintendent Dr. Joseph Marcoline, the firm initially will be hired for up to a year, at $4,000 per month, depending on its success in obtaining funding. A 30-day escape clause would allow the district to end its agreement with the firm.

"We want to try to capture some of the federal money that often goes to larger school districts," Marcoline said, suggesting, "There are hundreds of thousands of dollars available. It's up to us to identify our needs and make our best case for funding."

Although it is a smaller rural district, he indicated factors which could help attract attention to Homer-Center include its proximity to a major power plant and to IUP.

"We are ramping up our science curriculum due to the (future) testing associated with 'No Child Left Behind' guidelines," Marcoline said.

He explained the district plans to invest in science labs at the elementary level as well as new instructional materials and staff development.

Marcoline noted the school already has paved the way by squeezing more time into the elementary schedule for science and social studies instruction.

Elementary Principal Dr. Edward Meshanko explained consolidation of lunch periods at the school has eliminated a half hour per day which students wasted walking between classes.

That extra time now is being put to use in grades 4-6, where instructors can teach one additional specialized class.

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