Big Horn, Tongue River schools to offer more activities, sports

SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 1 is growing and next year, their offerings for extra curricular activities will be as well.

The district’s board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of offering more sports and activities after months of planning, weeks of discussions and surveys with parents and students, a recommendation from district Superintendent Marty Kobza to move forward and a heated discussion with parents at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

In addition to maintaining currently offered extra curriculars, wrestling, robotics and cross country will be added to SCSD1 middle schools and the high schools will gain dance teams, cross country, indoor track, robotics and boys and girls soccer teams.

Currently the district sends students to Sheridan to participate in cross country, indoor track, soccer, swimming and high school wrestling with Sheridan County School District 2 students.

This arrangement, known as a combination school agreement, is allowed by the Wyoming High School Activities Association and is common in Wyoming, with a variety of smaller schools not offering every activity utilizing the services of their neighbors.

Uncommon, however, is that SCSD2 charges SCSD1 for this agreement.

“They are the only district in the state that charges for another district to play with them in a co-op and they charge $1,000 per student,” Kobza said. “We’ll continue to have this ongoing conversation with district 2 and we’ll keep as many doors open as possible for now but hopefully they will understand that times are changing and we’ll either have to make it on our own or they’ll have to step up. It’s sad that we have to pay them in the place that we are in.”

SCSD1 will continue their partnership with Sheridan in the areas of swimming and high school wrestling but will pull out of the rest, assuming the number of kids show up to play at home that said they would.

Recently a letter was sent home to all middle school and high school parents and students asking them which activities, if any, they would commit to doing in the upcoming school year.

Districtwide, 24 girls and 23 boys said they would participate in soccer.

The soccer teams will be a combined effort between Tongue River High School and Big Horn High School and the location of the “home field” and practices is still up for discussion.

The remaining new sports will be kept separate between the two high schools, though there is a possibility of combined practices to allow for the students to learn from a larger pool of contenders.

Fifteen parents were present at the board meeting to discuss concerns they had with the new program.

Some of the top concerns were the new teams’ potential inability to win games, the future of the athletes currently playing in Sheridan and the number of student athletes and qualified coaches who will actually be available through the years.

Addressing the concerns, particularily the first, SCSD1 Board Chairman Johann Nield said with any new initiative there will be tweaks to work out but the point of the expansion is to get the students more involved in the school.

“If we were only concerned with winning state championships, then maybe we wouldn’t be looking at this,” he said. “But if we are looking at meeting the needs of the most students, then we add things, and research shows the more activities students are involved in the better their GPA will be.”

After recent clarification from the WHSAA, Kobza killed concerns over the students currently playing soccer in Sheridan by informing the parents that they could stay there, if they choose to.

The SCSD1 high schools would be classified as “schools of choice” and those currently enrolled in the Sheridan soccer program may stay in it until they finish high school.

Any new freshmen entering the sport or currently enrolled high schoolers who have not yet participated would join the SCSD1 teams unless they choose to transfer to Sheridan, though transferees must sit out a year of play before becoming active on the new school’s roster.

The new soccer teams will play at a junior varsity level next year as the WHSAA varsity schedule is set a year in advance and no longer open to join. Varsity level play will commence the following year and competitors will come from all area schools 3A or below.

The districts ability to offer additional activities will also expand with the continued progress of the proposed installation of lights to both football fields.

The necessary conditional use permit recently passed the county Planning and Zoning Commission and is on its way to the county commissioners for approval. In the meantime, the district board voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the lights, pending county approval and a finalized contract with Verizon Wireless which was in line with their initial proposal.

The lights, which will cost $240,000 for both schools, will end up being nearly free for the district thanks to a deal with Verizon to install cell phone boosters at the tops of the lights.

Verizon has proposed to pay 25 percent of the purchase cost up front and then pay a monthly lease fee of $1,000-1,200 to the district.

The district intends to finance the unpaid 75 percent over a 10-year period and the monthly payments on that loan would be covered by the Verizon payments funneled through the capital construction budget.

District business manager Jeremy Smith said the board would not have to expend any general funds and Kobza added that the purchase does not need to go through a formal bidding process as long as price comparisons were made and a 6-8 week lead time was required for installation.

As long as the permit passes the county commission, the district hopes to have the lights installed by the end of August or early September.

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