Au Gres-Sims, Arenac Eastern approve new sports agreement
All sports but girls basketball combined
Au GRES — The Au Gres-Sims school board approved new cooperative sports agreements with Arenac Eastern in a 5-2 vote during a special meeting Monday, Aug. 12.
The agreement will combine all winter and spring sports except for high school girls basketball between the two schools. A second agreement for cooperative middle school sports was also passed alongside one for high school sports programs.
According to AGS Board President Doug Furtah, the sports programs will run through AGS, much as the existing cooperative agreement for fall sports already does. He said this will include hosting events and getting playing gear together. AE will be able to offer its own facilities as the need arises, however.
“One thing they talked about is that our softball field tends to be underwater, so we could maybe have girls softball games over there while the boys are playing at home,” AGS Principal Chad Zeien said. “So this would be open to being flexible, and they talked about pulling their batting cages out now —whereas we can’t do that because the football practice is going on — so students could go over there to practice.”
Board member Eric Forton said the AE students have been a “godsend” for the football team, allowing both schools to make it to the playoffs last year. The board largely agreed this was a positive move for the schools, though some logistical issues still need to be worked out.
Furtah said there is a group in the community trying to figure out how best to get kids from the Twining area to Au Gres for practices and games, if those kids are unable to already get rides. Furtah added he wants to make sure every child who wants to play will not be stopped by transportation issues.
The two opposing votes were from Heather Caulfield and Heather Garry. Both were concerned that the middle school sports agreements would mean sixth-graders would be unable to participate in the teams anymore. Zeien said that AGS has a special agreement that has allowed them to field sixth-graders when numbers were down for the seventh- and eighth-grade participants.
Zeien acknowledged this was not an issue every year, as it is dependent on the number of students who can play. However, the two board members were concerned about being unable to get as many kids on the teams with both schools as they otherwise would have by just adding their own sixth-graders. Garry requested holding off on the agreement until better information on numbers could be obtained, but with the deadline for the agreement set by the Michigan High School Athletics Association Aug. 15, there was little time to research it further.
Superintendent Jeff Collier said the student count numbers will not be known until later in the school year.
“The reality is that middle school sports typically don’t include sixth grade,” Collier said. “This is a privilege that we have been able to do. I know the timing isn’t perfect because it has to be submitted to the state, but I encourage the board to look beyond the what-ifs with the sixth grade.”
Debbie Boensch, one of the school’s coaches, suggested trying to set up a separate program for kids in the fifth grade and sixth grade in both schools so they can participate in sports programs as well.
Furtah said if the two schools decided to combine varsity and JV girls basketball at some point in the future, it would require its own two-year agreement.
Arenac Eastern already passed the agreement at a meeting Aug. 7, Collier said, and had sent the proposal to the AGS board for consideration. Since the paperwork has been sent on time, the school districts do not need to do anything further.
AE Superintendent Darren Kroczaleski said the board would have preferred to continue with its own programs, but due to declining enrollment numbers, the district did not have enough students to field competitive teams in a number of sports.
“A cooperative agreement allows the student athletes to still participate in the sports programs,” Kroczaleski said. “They want to make sure kids have an opportunity to play sports if they wanted to.”
If student enrollment improves to the point where Arenac Eastern can form its own teams in the sports it now shares with AGS, Kroczaleski said the agreements could be re-evaluated once the two-year period has ended.