The Warwick school committee approved an amended version of proposed budget cuts at its meeting on Tuesday evening. Perhaps the most noteworthy on the list was sports at both the high school and middle school level.
Local student-athletes, coaches and administrators gathered outside of Warwick City Hall on Wednesday morning to rally, hoping to catch the ear of Mayor Joseph Solomon.
“I was dumbfounded. The mayor said that sports wouldn’t be cut, so to see it happen, to watch the videos of the school committee meeting, it’s heartbreaking,” said Toll Gate girls soccer coach Lonna Razza at the rally. “I’m a product of Warwick, sports give these kids a way to interact, technology and social media have taken over. In these sports and clubs, these kids are building friendships, building bonds, talking face to face. They make friends from other schools, it’s networking for them the way that we do.”
Pilgrim basketball player Sara Langevin was also upset when the news broke on Tuesday, and felt that the school committee let her and her teammates down.
“I was there (on Tuesday) night and spoke … I was baffled, I don’t know how it even came down to this. After I spoke, I walked back down with my teacher Ms. Rix and I just cried, it was so emotional. I just don’t know how it came to this,” said Langevin. “At the meeting, they kept saying that their goal was the kids, and that it was all about the kids, and they did the exact opposite. They don’t seem to care, those on the school committee, this has been going on for years and they’ve been pointing fingers, but in reality, it is all their fault.”
Pilgrim cross country and rugby player Samuel Toth also blamed the school committee for their handling of the budget.
“I don’t know how they can take this away from us … especially when looking at how well we did this past year sports-wise. I’m going to be a senior next year, I’m shocked. I knew that it’s been talked about the past few years because of poor funding, but I never really thought that this would happen to us. People talk about how we spent $10,000 on doorstops for example … those are completely unnecessary, we could have made those in workshop,” said Toth.
Pilgrim soccer coach Tom Flanders urged the school committee to orchestrate a concrete plan to fix this problem for the long term.
“That’s my advice to the school committee and the council. Get to the table and fix it. No one entity has the power. If the council gives $1.3 million, the school committee can do whatever they want with that. They need reassurances that that money will go to athletics, they need to sit down and either give more money to other areas to make sure that 1.3 goes to sports or they need to have something in writing,” said Flanders.
Although the list of cuts was approved on Tuesday, those at the rally are determined to undo the decision, and will continue to fight this summer.
“You’re destroying friendships, you’re destroying bonds, you also need this for college. It’s unfair. I’m going to be here every day this summer … I live 10 minutes from here, I’ll be here every day,” said Toth.
Many in the community looked back on former Toll Gate student Gianna Cirella, who passed away unexpectedly in November, 2017. Cirella, who was a soccer player, has been celebrated by the school and her teammates since the time of her passing for her impact on the club, and Razza believes that that unity should serve as a reminder of how powerful sports can be on the relationships between student-athletes.
“If this team wasn’t intact when we lost Gianna, I don’t know where these kids would be, I don’t know where I would be. They also helped me as a coach. These relationships are so important, so to have these opportunities taken away is heartbreaking,” said Razza. “As a Warwick taxpayer and teacher, it’s very disheartening. It’s a big blow, I feel horrible for these kids.”
“When Gianna passed, sports are what got us through the whole thing. The soccer team became like a family and the whole school became a community. And I don’t know if we could have made it through without sports, we know that she would have been here with us” added Toll Gate soccer player Hope Flaherty.
Pilgrim basketball coach Matt Fontaine has shifted his focus toward finding funding for the team, and to make sure his players remain prepared for next season, regardless of the result.
“As a coach, my thinking is, ‘what do we do next?’ We need to start coming up with a plan to fund the season ourselves. These kids, that high school sports experience, it’s something that they should not have to worry about. Right now, I look at it like I have a full summer to work toward next season, and we’re going to prepare to play until a group of people tell us that we can’t. It was approved (Tuesday), but we’ll see what happens over the summer. We just need to keep the kids upbeat and focused,” said Fontaine.
Fontaine also echoed the sentiments of those at the rally.
“(Sports are) everything. From the time I was 5-years-old, to high school, to college, to even men’s recreational sports, sports have been everything to me,” said Fontaine. “We need to give these kids these opportunities and afford them that right. It gives kids the opportunity to go to college, and gives them something to look forward to.”
(Samuel Eleuterio contributed to this report.)