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Published: Saturday, 8/7/2004

Lake levy failure uproots students, raises anxiety

BY ERICA BLAKE
AND GRANT SCHULTE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Matt and Marshall Severhof saw it coming.

They heard too much about the levy that would rob them of senior year football and baseball glory and listened to gossip that the measure likely would fail.

School without varsity athletics simply was not an option.

And so, two days before the levy vote that would cost Lake High School its athletic programs, the twin brothers moved 14 miles south with their father to Pemberville, where they will play for Eastwood High School.

Both said they "definitely" would have preferred playing for the Lake High School Flyers.

But yesterday, staring at the stretch of grass they wanted to defend this fall, the 17-year-olds could only bemoan the Lake Local school board's decision to cut sports and other extracurricular activities.

At least 11 football players are leaving - roughly one-fourth of the team, they said.

"Last time on the Flyer Field, boys," Marshall told Matt and their friends, four fellow football players who all are finding new homes with relatives or with friends so they can enroll at neighboring schools this fall.

The aftershock of the board's decision hit home yesterday as players turned in their helmets, and some area athletic administrators scrambled to figure out how they will piece together new game schedules that, in some cases, have been set years in advance.

The cuts came in response to voter rejection of a three-year, 11-mill operating levy that would have raised $2.5 million a year and kept the district from running a deficit of more than $2 million by June, 2006.

"Today was not a fun day," said Dave Shaffer, Lake's director of athletics. "I feel terrible that these schools are in this position now, with some of the other sports. We'll do the best we can."

Mr. Shaffer, whose job was cut, will teach physical education at Lake this fall.

The loss may only be temporary, though.

The Suburban Lakes League, in which Lake plays, still considers the school a member, Jim Yeager, league commissioner, said. Lake will be placed tentatively on winter schedules, he said.

Mr. Yeager declined to comment on the board's action but called the cuts "a minor setback."

"We certainly consider [Lake] to be a stronghold in our league," Mr. Yeager said. "They're still solid in our future."

But, he acknowledged, "It's kind of uncharted at this point."

Scott Bernthisel, athletic director for Otsego Local Schools, said he and his fellow athletic directors are working to fill the slots in their sports schedulesleft open by Lake's absence. Students playing boys and girls soccer, boys and girls golf, cross country, and volleyball have been affected, he said.

Mr. Bernthisel sympathized with those at Lake Local, remembering that his district was faced with losing its athletic programs a few years back.

"At the time, we as coaches came up with a pay-to-play plan" before the levy passed, he said. "Looking at things statewide, it's probably a matter of time for schools to institute a pay-to-play program anyway."

Eastwood Local Superintendent Bill McFarland said a stream of parents from Lake called or visited his district inquiring about open enrollment. Although the Wood County district typically accepts open enrollment students in the spring, Mr. McFarland said Eastwood policy allows officials to accept new students through October.

Mr. McFarland said his district received a similar number of inquiries a few years ago when Otsego Local schools faced a financial crunch and a critical levy was on the ballot. The levy eventually passed.

Eastwood High is slated to take on Lake at home during its last football game of the season. Mr. McFarland said he's leaving it up to the athletic director how to fill in the empty slot but recognizes that there may be only nine games on the Eastwood schedule this year.

"There aren't a whole lot of teams that would have openings on their schedules. There aren't a whole lot of options," he said.

Other students, pessimistic that sports would immediately return, have begun a grass-roots effort to change Lake's leadership.

"I don't really know what the options are," said Danielle White, 16, who was a member of the Lake marching band as well as track and tennis teams.

"They're talking about now that we might not have prom because of no money."

Danielle's mother, Ruby, said Lake district residents are feeling strong-armed into approving the levy in November.

She said many of the levy's supporters are so angered by the board's "ridiculous" action that they are hoping to oust the superintendent and eventually vote off board members. The Whites are planning a community meeting today at their home at 5410 Williston Rd.

Lake Superintendent Paul Orshoski said he decided not to approve student-athletes' requests to transfer to other districts while still living in the Lake district after conducting a "straw poll" of board members following Thursday night's meeting. His decision does not affect students who move into another district.

"Several people were waiting after the meeting to ask, and my response was, 'The majority of the board doesn't support me signing, and I'm not going to do anything to cut my throat with my board because they're my boss,'●" Mr. Orshoski said.

The superintendent acknowledged that some parents and students feel that the levy's defeat and the board's decisions have left them trapped in a school system that offers no extracurricular activities.

●In Lake senior Joel Mass' case, the transfer school of choice was Genoa High School. Joel, Matt, and Marshall have played football together since seventh grade.

"There's no other choice," Joel said. "You've got to play your senior year."

Blade staff writer Steve Murphy contributed to this report.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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