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Uniform update planned for Homer-Center marching band

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 2:09 p.m.

Homer-Center School District is planning a makeover for the high school marching band.

At its regular March meeting, the school board heard a presentation from band director Jon Stolarz about proposed new uniforms for the marching unit and discussed outfit samples from supplier FJM (Fred J. Miller Inc.), based in Miamisburg, Ohio.

Stolarz said a panel that included students reviewed uniform options, resulting in a recommendation for an updated style that would include a traditional “shako” — a hat with a tall plume — as well as wrap-around gauntlets and an external “pocket” that could be swapped out to display various colors depending on the event where the band performs. 

“Say we're doing our Pink Out Night; we can put pink in there,” Stolarz said, referring to an event many schools hold to support the battle against breast cancer.

“It helps us get a little more festive. It gives us more options to represent what we're trying to represent at different times,” he said of the pocket.

After an extended discussion, the school board directed Stolarz and high school principal Jody Rainey to work with FJM representatives to refine the design for the new band uniforms.

A majority of the board members made it clear that gray is one color they don't want to see included in the new uniform design, rejecting a gray “claw” emblem meant to refer to the school's Wildcats mascot.

Homer-Center officials said they want to stick with the school's traditional colors of black and white; they added that any accent should be minimal and in the color red.

While Stolarz said he personally is used to a more traditional style of uniform, he said student panel members convinced him to include more modern design elements when they became excited “about having something fresh that made them stand out, so I kind of went that route ... I thought (FJM) kind of had a blend of the two with the traditional band hat — the shako— and then a look that is still a little bit modern that the kids might get behind and enjoy.”

“If we're reaching out to gain students, which is what we're doing with our band program, we have to change it up,” he said of the design.

School board members indicated they are committed to ordering new uniforms, noting that the existing outfits are about a decade old and will be in short supply based on projected growth in band enrollment.

Stolarz said the band, which includes students in grades 6-12, most recently totaled 55 members but could grow to as many as 80 members in the coming season.

He said the district would have only a few weeks to arrive at a preferred design if the uniforms are to be ready in time for fall football games. “The process of manufacturing takes approximately 150 days,” he told the board.

Homer-Center officials have set $40,000 as a low price estimate for the new uniforms, with the district expecting to split the cost with the band boosters organization.

Stolarz noted the boosters group will purchase two sets of cotton gloves for each of the band members.

“Starting next year, every student is going to be required to wear gloves whenever they touch an instrument,” Stolarz said. He explained that the gloves will prevent oil from the students' skin causing long-term damage to the instruments: “It will help the finishes. The instruments are going to last longer.”

Board members questioned Stolarz about the quality of the fabric that would be used in the uniforms.

He explained the material is designed to be comfortable for the students to wear, wicking away moisture, while also being durable and easy to clean. Rainey noted the uniforms come with a 10-year warranty and can be machine-washed instead of requiring dry cleaning.

“Think of it as Under Armour for band kids,” Stolarz said. “Nine of the top 12 drum corps in the world are wearing those kind of uniforms.”

Rainey said he received positive feedback about the uniform fabric when checking with three other bands in southwestern Pennsylvania that are using it.

According to Stolarz, the shako is currently the most popular choice of headgear among marching bands. He noted that the tall hat will provide extra height for the younger members of the band: “It will make us all look similar in stature, even though we've got sixth-graders up to 12th-graders.”

Contractor OK'd for athletic facilities work

Turning to facilities improvements, the school board approved a $7,300 quote from Sports and Recreation Associates to supply and install new 4 12-inch gooseneck goal posts at the high school football stadium. That price includes disposal of the existing posts.

With Joy Sasala and Sherri Williams absent, school board President Vicki Smith cast the sole vote against the new posts. She and Dan Fabin also opposed a motion that passed to have the Apollo-based firm relocate a basketball backboard at the elementary school, at a cost of $2,715.

Smith cited a cost objection to the new goal posts: “I think it's a lot of money.”

But board Vice President Gerald Bertig pointed out that the current homemade goal posts are rusty and are considered a safety hazard. Superintendent Charles Koren noted that the welding on the posts is worn out and the district has opted against attempting to reweld them.

Koren said no extra funds have to be budgeted for the posts as they are part of previously planned upgrades at Memorial Field that include modifications approved in February to improve handicapped access to home bleachers. The board had set $54,307 as the maximum amount to be spent on both items.

Smith indicated she objected to the elementary backboard change because she felt it would interfere with available gym time.

New security equipment installed

The school board also approved a change order for the district's new building security improvements, as requested by architectural consultant HHSDR. Contractor Johnson Controls of Pittsburgh will receive an additional $1,376 to install a proximity reader, or scanner, and related hardware and cabling as part of new security provisions at the main office entrance to the high school. The addition brings the contract total to $180,820.

Rainey reported that members of the public who visit the school are “getting used to the new entry procedures. It certainly has put another level of security in at the building, which is a good thing.”

A secured entrance at the elementary school and addition of security cameras at both buildings are other elements of the security improvements.

“It's just an added precaution that's greatly appreciated,” said elementary principal Michael Stofa.

As for the security cameras, Rainey noted resulting footage “saves us a lot of time to get to the meat and potatoes of what has occurred when students have reported different things.”

In a posting on the district website, Koren explains the new procedures for the public to enter each of the buildings during the school day: At the main entrance, visitors will be required to push a button and speak into a camera lens located on the outside wall, stating their name and the purpose of their visit. School personnel may then grant access to the main office, where visitors will remain “secure and locked in” until further access is granted, if needed.

The school board approved an agreement with Consolidated Communications for district phone services in the 2014-15 school year as negotiated through the federal E-rate program. Business Manager Greg Cessna noted the terms of the new agreement will be the same offered for the current year, including a monthly charge of $400.

The board also authorized district administrators to seek a one-year extension of the district's contract with Smith Bus Company for transportation services. The current agreement runs through the end of June.

Homer-Center approved the ARIN Intermediate Unit 2014-15 general operating budget of $3 million. The district's contribution, through withholding, is $27,629, representing no increase over the budget for the current academic year.

Snow make-up day slated

The district has scheduled April 17 as an instructional day, making up for the weather-related cancellation of classes on Feb. 18.

The school board approved a draft version of its required special education plan, which was placed on display for public review for 28 days at the central administration office. Koren said the plan has been modernized to comply with current educational standards. Also on display are two new proposed high school textbooks for Algebra 1 and ninth-grade biology.

The board adopted new program-related policies regarding inclusion and surrogate parents and approved changes, as recommended by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, to various other district policies concerning programs, pupils, employees, finances, operations and the community.

Daniel Cooper was approved to continue as the district solicitor for the 2014-15 school year, at an hourly rate of $80.

Under personnel items, the school board approved a leave for elementary teacher Erin Hildebrand in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act. Also approved was an unpaid medical leave for instructional aide Heather Greene, retroactive to March 4 and continuing for up to 6 weeks.

Christine Carlson was approved as an assistant junior high volleyball coach for the 2013-14 year, at a salary of $1,343, and Sarah Fyock was approved as Homecoming coordinator for 2014-15. Fyock's supplemental salary will be increased from the current $248, as per the district's contract with the Homer-Center Education Association.

Jill Lawson was approved, retroactively, as a parent volunteer who participated in a March 7 chorus trip to New York City.

The school board approved a local audit of district operations in the 2012-13 school year, as submitted by the firm of McCrory and McCrory.

In buildings and grounds matters, the school board authorized the Homer-Center Parks and Recreation Board to use the high school gym for Homer-Center alumni basketball games from noon to 8 p.m. May 3 while Connie Bruner and the Homer City United Methodist Church were granted permission to stage a Ball Brothers concert from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 16 in the high school auditorium. Custodial fees of $80 and $138 will be charged for the respective events.

All building use fees were waived for the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club, which will conduct its summer program from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 9-27 and July 7-25 in the elementary cafeteria, gym and large group room.

Several field trips were approved including:

• Christine Yurky and students to attend the Youth and Government State Conference April 10-14 in Harrisburg, with costs including $285 for registration, $1,650 for transportation, and hiring of a substitute;

• Yurky and students to attend the History Bee/Bowl National Championships April 25-27 in Washington, D.C., at a cost of $2,007.44 plus hiring a substitute;

• Sarah DeVivo and students to attend a National History Day competition May 12-13 in Millersville at a cost of $339 and hiring of one substitute;

• Tammy Buffone and Kristin Curci to accompany two foreign exchange students on a  May 17 tour of Pittsburgh at no cost to the district.

Participating H-C students will travel to the following Heritage Conference academic competitions: Math and impromptu speech, April 8 at Marion Center and Penns Manor school districts, respectively; science, April 9 at Ligonier Valley School District; current events and a family and consumer science cook-off, both April 10 at Purchase Line School District. H-C will cover transportation costs only for the math and science events and will hire four substitutes.

In his report, Stofa congratulated fourth-grader Marlee Kochman and sixth-grader Kennidy Page, who won in their respective age groups at the recent Elks Hoop Shoot state competition at Penn State. The girls advanced to a regional competition, which pitted them against girls from New Jersey and New York State March 22 in Wilkes Barre.

Stofa noted the elementary cafeteria now includes a designated “peanut-free” table for students who are allergic to the nuts.

Rainey congratulated the boys' basketball team, which recently won the Heritage Conference title and advanced to the second round of the state tournament, and the 24-member indoor percussion group, which placed first in a competition at Huntingdon.

He also noted that copies of “Heartless,” the debut novel by H-C eighth-grader Mya Zemlock, are now available for purchase online through Friesen Press or Zemlock and her book, about an apocalyptic world plagued by zombies, were featured in the Dec. 6, 2013 edition of The Dispatch.

Programs stress drug dangers

Rainey encouraged Homer-Center parents to attend an informational “Dangers of Drugs” meeting that will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 1 in the Saltsburg Middle/High School Auditorium.

Organized by the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District in conjunction with Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty and sponsored by Indiana Regional Medical Center and the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, the meeting will include stories by those whose families have been affected by drug addiction and information on: signs and symptoms of abuse; medication street names; where drugs are coming from and where to get help.

In addition to Dougherty, presenters will include Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman and representatives from Citizens' Ambulance Service, the Open Door counseling center and area drug task force and law enforcement organizations.

“Drug and alcohol abuse is a concern in every community, and we're not immune in Homer-Center,” Rainey said. “We need to be part of the solution, and part of that is education.”

Rainey noted Homer-Center students benefited from a similar message during a March 17 drug education assembly that he called “probably one of the most powerful assemblies we've had.”

Among the presenters at the assembly were two recovering addicts in their 20s and Carmen Capozzi, who lost his son to a heroin overdose and responded by founding “Sage's Army,” an organization dedicated to stopping drug abuse.

In addition, Rainey said, some H-C students courageously addressed the assembled student body to “share personal testimonials and stories about how drug and alcohol abuse has affected them,” through their families.

He noted fellow students responded by expressing “care and concern” for those who spoke.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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