BARRE — The Vermont Ravens won’t be playing any home games on the soon-to-be-lit football field at Spaulding High School this fall.
Acting on the recommendation of their athletic director, a divided school board this week rejected the semi-pro football team’s recent request to host games at A.G. Pendo Memorial Field on successive Sundays in September.
If you were keeping score Monday night, the initial vote was 3-2, but after further review, Chairwoman Norma Malone joined the slim majority.
The decision capped a discussion that began when Spaulding Athletic Director Patrick Merriam left little doubt about where he stood on what has become an annual request to use the closest thing the Ravens have had to a home field since the team was founded in 2006.
“I’m still trying to get my head around what the field is going to look like at the end of our seasonal use with lights,” Merriam told the board.
“Who knows? In future years have them back, but my own vote is to not have the Ravens there this year.”
However, one board member lamented the message she feared they were sending to a community that the board just “begged, pleaded and borrowed” from to raise money for the lighting fixtures and poles that will be installed over the summer.
“It saddens me that we … are going to say: ‘Our fields are for Spaulding, and we’ll let you know in a year (if you can use them),” Carlotta Simonds-Perantoni said. “… It’s unacceptable.”
However, Merriam said denying the Ravens the chance to pay to use the field, as they have in years past, was a strategic decision based on a request to host games at Spaulding on Sept. 7 and 14. He said those dates were either just before or just after varsity or junior varsity football games at Spaulding and he was worried about wear and tear on the field.
“Overuse of the field is my biggest concern,” Merriam said.
Malone said she shared that concern.
“From what I’ve heard, when those folks get on the field it shows,” she said. “My primary concern is to make sure that the fields are in the best shape they can be in for our teams first.”
Board member Giuliano Cecchinelli II said he had mixed emotions about denying the Ravens’ request, but was prepared to support Merriam’s recommendation, as was Dottye Ricks.
Ricks said the board wasn’t “slamming the door” on the team that has played either some or all of its home games at Spaulding since its inception, but should proceed with caution given Merriam’s concerns.
“I don’t think (the Ravens) should cost us money to keep our field in the shape that we need to keep our students safe,” Ricks said.
Although Simonds-Perantoni noted the Ravens have historically paid to use Spaulding’s field, Malone said the timing of the dates requested this year was the problem, not cost.
“You can’t fix the field in time for our student-athletes to be on it and to ensure their safety,” she said.
Merriam said he was sensitive to the concern Simonds-Perantoni expressed in the wake of a fundraising campaign that was pitched as an opportunity to create what could be an important community asset.
“We’re saying no to one group,” he said, noting he is already talking with groups like the Barre Youth Sports Association about the possibility of scheduling Saturday games on the field this fall.
“It is important to have the community use the space, absolutely without a doubt,” he said, describing the Ravens as a team of adult men who come from all over the place.
“They’re not necessarily all Barre-rooted people,” he said.
Tommy Walz voted with Simonds-Perantoni in dissent. After counting the votes, Malone decided to add her vote to those of Cecchinelli, Ricks and Joe Blakely in favor.
Meanwhile, Merriam told board members he is rescheduling four of Spaulding’s five varsity home football games from Saturday afternoons to Friday nights in anticipation that the lighting installation will be completed over the summer. At least for this year, he said, the team’s homecoming game will continue to be held on a Saturday as part of a tradition that includes a parade earlier that day.
Merriam said he is also looking into scheduling a couple of night soccer games this fall.
In other business Monday, board members received good financial news and an overview on the latest building trades trip to New Orleans. They were also lobbied by students in Tom Treece’s public issues and world affairs class to end a long-standing ban on students wearing hats in school.
On the financial front, the board was told that with slightly less than a month to go in the fiscal year, it appears the district will end up with a surplus of just over $275,000.
Though expenses are running roughly $150,000 over budget, revenue is up by more than $387,000.
Board members were told that regular education expenses were roughly $62,000 under budget, partly offsetting a $211,000 spike in the cost of special education. Reimbursements associated with providing special education services were almost solely responsible for the $387,000 surge in unanticipated revenue.
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