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Penn Hills School Board debates future of tennis programs

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Above, tennis courts at Linton Middle School, shown in winter. One parent suggested renovating the courts for practice purposes and only renting Boyce Park court space for matches as a cost-saving measure.

On June 30, Penn Hills school board members voted, 4-2, to remove the $3,438 salary of tennis coach Jack Kowalski from the 2014-15 athletic supplementals list.

Less than 10 minutes later, Kowalski stepped to the microphone to remind the board that he'd just recently received a district email approving that same salary.

The vote, and the discussion that preceded it, had several parents questioning whether the district will have a tennis team in the coming school year.

Kowalski's salary originally was discussed at a spring meeting of the district's athletic advisory committee, according to committee and school-board member Don Kuhn. That committee made the recommendation to remove it from the supplementals list.

It is the only committee in the district that does not keep minutes of its meetings and post those minutes to the district website.

Parents, players and Kowalski, who is not a full-time Penn Hills employee, said the recommendation came as a surprise.

“I think in the future, this committee should make an effort to publicize these meetings, so that we as parents know what's happening with sports,” parent Kelly Shirey said.

Board member Heather Hoolahan, who along with member Pauline Calabrese voted against the salary removal, said the athletic advisory committee's recommendation “made it seem like this was a team that was steadily declining in enrollment.”

Kowalski said the 2013-14 boys tennis team had to forfeit a number of matches because six players were ruled academically ineligible.

“That was never a problem with the girls team,” Kowalski told the board.

Fourteen girls were on the team this past school year, which is twice the number necessary to field a squad. Thirteen are currently signed up for 2014-15.

A brief debate of potential Title IX issues took place at the meeting, with Hoolahan asking if the district could legally field a girls tennis team without having a boys team. U.S. Department of Education Public Affairs Specialist Jane Glickman said that situation did not appear to violate any Title IX provisions.

“I can't imagine punishing the girls team because the boys can't field enough members,” Glickman said.

Plans to construct new tennis courts were eliminated from the final design for Penn Hills High School. The teams currently rent court space at Boyce Park, and must be bused to and from practice.

As a way to cut down on costs, parent and PTA President M.J. Gula suggested renovating the existing courts at Linton Middle School for practice, and renting Boyce Park court space only for matches.

Kowalski said the board might be able to find additional funding for the team through the U.S. Tennis Association, which offers a variety of matching grants for teams.

Board member John Zacchia said the board should take another look at the situation.

Kowalski agreed.

“I played for three hours this morning,” he told board members. “It's a sport you can play your whole life. It would be a great dishonor to all these wonderful girls (to eliminate it).”

District solicitor Craig Alexander wrote in an email that the district is exploring potential Title IX issues “to see if there is a way to revisit the matter if the board so chooses.”

Patrick Varine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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