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Players, coaches upset by Sto-Rox board's decision to cut baseball, softball

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Since the Sto-Rox school board voted to discontinue the high school baseball and softball programs, it seems as if everyone has something to say to Sto-Rox school board President Elizabeth Smith.

Members of the media. People on the street. Callers. Even social media users who don't mention her by name but reference what she and her board did.

Very little of the interaction has been positive.

In Smith's opinion, people are upset about the wrong thing.

“I'm just beside myself — I was appalled that I had to do an interview last week about this,” Smith said. “Nobody has contacted me and asked me about the effects cuts will have on the district at large. It's appalling to me that people lost their jobs and elementary students will be directly impacted by the loss of teachers, of a librarian, of a secretary and maintenance ... and all I get interviewed about is why we eliminated the softball and baseball programs.”

Eliminating the teams was one of many across-the-board cuts made to the district's budget during a meeting last week. The athletics programs were eliminated by an 8-1 vote.

Smith said baseball and softball were eliminated to stay in compliance with Title IX requirements of male and female sports.

The Vikings' softball team filled the district trophy case, winning 10 Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championships and a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association title during the 35 seasons Bill Palermo was coach. He resigned after the spring season.

“It's disappointing for the community, and with the tradition we established in softball, it's hard to see that happen,” said Bill Minear, who resigned as Sto-Rox's athletic director last month.

“It's hard to watch something you truly love come to an end.”

Supporters of the Sto-Rox softball program estimate that 85 percent of Vikings players go on to college. They note that many of the softball players are the school's best students — this season alone, according to Palermo, three of the top five in the Class of 2013 were on the team.

They point to the fact that cutting baseball and softball, saving the district $23,000 to 25,000, is a fraction of the district's $24 million operating budget.

“What's $23,000 going to do?” Palermo said.

WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said Sto-Rox has not filed officially expressing its intention to not fulfill its schedule.

“Until they formally issue that letter, we'll take a wait-and-see attitude,” O'Malley said. “I think that's probably the best thing to do. Come October or November, maybe they'll find some creative way to fund these sports. We've seen it before.”

Regardless, the WPIAL will keep its sectional alignment and schedule. Students from the school will not be permitted to play softball or baseball for a school they do not attend.

O'Malley indicated it is highly unlikely a cooperative agreement with another school could be reached in time for the upcoming season. And even if it could, because this is the middle of a two-year cycle, it would have to be a from a Class A school tiny enough that the schools' combined enrollments would keep the team in Class A.

That seems extremely unlikely.

Center fielder Haylee Weisser just graduated as valedictorian and will major in English at Duquesne University — an example, Palermo said, of what athletics can do for academics.

Weisser said she was “furious” when she heard about softball being cut.

“It's all politics is all it is,” Weisser said. “The volleyball team's had no winning records in 20 years, and they take the winningest program instead?

“At least I can always say with pride and love that I was on the last softball team at Sto-Rox and on the last team coached by Bill Palermo. So it's kind of mixed emotions.”

Chris Adamski is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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