Ball in study group's court
The Port Aransas Independent School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to form the six-member group on Wednesday, April 8.
The vote was made on a motion by trustee Ken Dunton that the committee be composed of two community members, two trustees and two school faculty members. One of the faculty members would explore the athletic consequences of instituting football and volleyball; and the other faculty member would investigate the academic ramifications.
Dunton's motion included language that all the committee members would be named by Rick Adams, president of the board.
Adams said the committee was not formed to make a recommendation on whether to institute football and volleyball programs, but simply to gather facts on the potential advantages and disadvantages of such a move.
Adams named dentist Britt Barwise to be one community member of the committee. Barwise later told the South Jetty that he favors adding football and volleyball, but he said he will not let bias guide him in selecting information to provide the board.
Adams also named Tonya May to the committee. May, a stay-at-home parent and school volunteer, has spearheaded a drive in recent months to get football and volleyball programs started in Port Aransas schools.
But May said she will be objective as she gathers information for the school board.
"If there is one clear-cut reason (the new sports programs) cannot be formed, I'll be happy with it," May said. "But, if there's not a clear-cut reason that it can't happen, I'll have a hard time with that."
May said she supports the formation of the committee because it could provide good, objectively obtained information to the board. That data will be taken more seriously than the information provided by a group created especially to lobby for the new sports.
Trustees appointed to the committee were Jay Jones and Chuck Borders. Asked if he favors adding the sports, Jones said, "I am for both programs if they make sense for PAISD and the community."
He added, "I am also not afraid to see the idea fail. I am very much for understanding what it would be like to implement the programs, not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly, with the intent to make them successful. When we're done (exploring the subject), it may be that it doesn't make sense to add one or both of these programs."
Asked whether he could state a position on adding football and volleyball, Borders said, "I don't think I can. The reason is, there are a lot of different impacts, and I'm trying to face this thing as fairly and openly as I can, looking at all of the impacts, so we can make a decision. If we go in with a bunch of preconceived ideas, it's going to be hard for everyone to look at all the information without being biased."
Borders continued: "I'm trying not to allow any feelings I have to cloud it. I think the issue is a whole lot more complex than everyone believes, and we've got to look at everything. Once we do that, I think it's going to be obvious. It's going to fall on the table. But I don't want to prejudice it right now."
Adams named PAISD Athletic Director Steve Reaves as the faculty member representing athletics to serve on the committee.
"I'm indifferent," Reaves said when asked whether he already has an opinion on whether football and volleyball should be added. "It really doesn't matter to me, one way or another. I could see where it could be positive, and I could see where it could change some things up."
Reaves said his aim will be to determine what it would take to install a highquality football and volleyball programs in Port Aransas schools. "I don't want something low-quality slid in for the lowest price possible," he said.
Adams held off on naming the faculty member representing academics after Superintendent Sharon Doughty asked him to consult with her after the meeting to discuss who should be appointed.
"I want a little say in this," Doughty said, adding that it is a busy time of year for teachers but that the football and volleyball issue is an important one.
After Doughty and Adams conferred, Adams announced on Friday, April 10, that Port Aransas High School English teacher Melanie Mayer would be the committee's faculty member exploring the academic side of the issue.
Mayer said in a past interview that she worries that adding more sports could stretch students so thinly that they would be unable to do very well at any one sport. She also has expressed concern that academics could suffer.
Asked anew for comment, Mayer said, "I don't see my role as a committee member as voicing a personal opinion, so much as it is to so much as it is to represent the faculty and research the issue. I will be sharing the opinions and information given to me by colleagues, and researching this as open-mindedly as I can, regardless of my own opinion."
While the vote to form the committee ended up being unanimous, the board at first could not agree on how many community members should be on the committee. While Dunton proposed two, Jones made a motion to have four.
Trustee Ann Appling seconded the motion, but they were voted down, 4-2, by the rest of the board. It was among only a handful of split votes in board meetings over the past few years.
May held a community meeting on Feb. 23 to rally support for starting football and volleyball programs. Ever since, the question of whether to institute the programs in Port Aransas schools has prompted more debate around the community than perhaps any other school issue in the past few years. The only possible exception would be when trustees last year considered starting a program for drug testing on students.
May has proposed football for boys and volleyball for girls. U.S. law prevents schools from receiving federal funds if they don't have equal sports opportunities for boys and girls.
Trustees have not taken public positions on whether football or volleyball should be formal parts of Port Aransas school programs.
During the April 8 meeting, May was the only community member who spoke in favor of adding the sports.
Former school board president Rick Tinnin was the only community member who spoke against football. He said he believes other school sports and academic performance would suffer if the new sports are added because there are so few student athletes to go around. Tinnin said PAISD also can't afford the monetary costs of football.
May and Tinnin received applause from supporters in the audience.
Dunton said the committee should report its findings to trustees by the board's June 11 meeting. Adams said the matter likely will have to be addressed in a series of board meetings.
May urged the board to act this summer or by early fall to make a decision. She said the University Interscholastic League must hear from Port Aransas by October to be able to include PAISD in district football schedules that would allow the Marlins to be eligible for involvement in playoffs, should their record allow it.
Most respondents to a recent unscientific poll on the South Jetty's Web site, www.portasouthjetty.com, supported the idea of adding football and volleyball programs at Port Aransas schools. The final vote was 283 in favor and 156 opposed. Seven voters said they had no opinion.