News Obits School/Sports Community Opinion

— The decision not to field a high school football team in Decatur is final, superintendent LeRoy Ortman and athletic director Bobby King told a crowd of parents and students at MondayÃ-s town-hall meeting.

Town-hall meetings are held monthly in the place of school board meetings to keep the community informed, but attendance has been dwindling since the districtÃ-s financial situation has stabilized. Only King, Ortman and the Decatur Herald attended the June meeting.

In contrast, more than 30 parents, faculty and students ó only five of which were football players ó attended Monday nightÃ-s meeting to protest the schoolÃ-s decision to cut the high school football team this season.

Somewhere between five and nine players attended summer practices. It was announced in the third week of June that the schoolÃ-s administration would make a decision on whether or not to field a football team when two-a-day practices started on Aug. 3, but on that critical date only three players came to practice. On Aug. 4, five players showed up to practice.

ÃObviously, if youÃ-re going to have a football program, you have to have more than 11 kids,î Ortman said.

School officials gave the team another 10 days to recruit players before Ãpulling the plugî on Aug. 13.

ÃReluctantly, not because of dollars ó because thatÃ-s not the issue anymore ó we said, ûOK, we have teams that have scheduled us for homecoming, we better let them know that we will not be fielding a high school football team this year,Ã-î Ortman explained to parents.

Becky Arnold, mother of quarterback Trent Arnold, took a day off work last week to recruit players for the team. This will be Trent ArnoldÃ-s senior year, and since he did not fill out a school choice form to transfer to another district by June 30, he will not be able to play football for another team even if he transfers to another school.

Before school officials made their decision, Becky Arnold presented King with a list of around 18 players who had promised her they would join the team once school started.

Becky Arnold explained that the prospective players hada whole host of reasons they couldnÃ-t come to summer practice. Some worked on the farm, some had jobs, some didnÃ-t have transportation, others had to baby-sit younger siblings and some were out of town spending the summer with a divorced parent.

ÃYour not going to convince me that waiting for one week (until school started to make the decision) would hurt. What difference would one week make. ItÃ-s the most ridiculous thing IÃ-ve ever heard,î she said.

Ortman pointed out that school starts on Aug. 19 and the first football game is scheduled for Sept. 3. Fifteen days is simply not enough time to get the players in shape and teach them the skills they need to know to compete, Ortman said, especially since the entire team would have to play both the offensive and defensive roles.

ÃIf folks come that late in the season, it would be very difficult to stay in the kind of shape to play both ways,î he said.

ÃThe kids themselves arenÃ-t saying they want to win a championship; they just want to play football,î parent Rick Hickson responded.

Patsy Wilkins suggested the team forfeit the first game instead of the whole season to give the players more time to get in shape.

King reported that he has already sent a letter to the Arkansas Athletic Association announcing the districtÃ-s decision. Parents asked King if he would call AAA and ask them to reverse the decision, but he said the determination was final.

Parents asked why the committed players were not informed about the possibility that football would be cut before school choice forms were due.

ÃThatÃ-s why I made a conscious decision in the third week of June (to announce that the football team was in trouble). IÃ-m not going to sneak up on anybody. It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that was paying attention,î Ortman said.

He explained that he has been warning parents ever since he came to Decatur that a school with a population of around 500 will have a hard time fielding a football team just because of sheer numbers.

When the Focus on the Future group met last December, football was one of the items on the list that could have been cut to save the district money, Ortman said. But Focus on the Future members rated having a high school football team as very important, so the football program was continued.

ÃThatÃ-s why I say, ûFolks, if itÃ-s important to the youngsters, I think itÃ-s important; but if itÃ-s only important to the oldsters then I think...Ã-î Ortman said with a shrug.

Hickson pointed out that many of the parents in attendance fought to keep the school open last summer.

ÃIf we donÃ-t keep things for the kids to come and do, we will keep losing kids out of the district ... It seems like we did a lot of work for nothing,î he said.

ÃRight now I feel like an idiot for staying here. My kids are suffering because I chose to stay here,î Becky Arnold said.

Ortman reported that 28 students filed school-choice forms to go to neighboring districts, and one student filed a form to come to Decatur. Last year, however, more than 70 students left the district.

ÃWe just donÃ-t have the numbers of kids available that wantto play football,î Ortman said, ÃIÃ-d like to give you every chance I could up to the last football game, but according to my experience I donÃ-t see that happening.î

Former school board member Brian Wilkins asked at what point other sports programs such as basketball, softball, track and baseball would be in danger.

ÃWhen it appears there is not enough interest to continue,î Ortman said.

Ortman said he could have discontinued the football program in April to save money on the coaches salary but wanted to give it every chance he could. Now that the coaches contracts are final, the district will still have to pay them coaching stipends.

Ortman said he plans to ask the student council for ideas onhow to have a homecoming for the girls and how to continue the cheerleading program.

ÃIf IÃ-ve said it before, IÃ-ve said it a dozen times. I didnÃ-t want to be the one who was known for saving the school and losing the dad-gum football team,î Ortman said.

ÃI appreciate your effort because I would like to see a football team,î Ortman told Arnold.

News, Pages 1, 2 on 08/19/2009

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