Michael Dodig, a 17-year-old senior, went into his summer vacation not knowing if he’d played his last high school game.
“Well, almost having no sports was a real shock for our school,” said Dodig. “Coming from a sports related town, it almost felt like having no sports was impossible.”
The shock was felt by fellow football player Terrell Lawrence, a 15-year-old sophomore who made the jump to varsity this season to help plug some holes in the line corps.
“This year was a little on the edge of discomfort because we weren’t sure if sports were going to happen this year because the budget didn’t pass,” said Lawrence. “Everyone was scared that there could be less games and that we are low on equipment, but it’s not stopping us and it won’t stop us. Hopefully we will show Valley Central and the rest of the teams we play what we have to play for and who we have to play for.”
Lawrence was referring to Friday’s season opener, a non-league visit to Valley Central. As with many of the athletes who spoke to the Saugerties Times, Lawrence said his team was playing with the extra incentive of showing those in the community who helped save sports for the 2010-11 school year that their efforts were appreciated.
“There are less games, less equipment, and other things we may have less of this year, but it doesn’t matter to me,” said 18-year-old football player Nick Gruccio. “It’s my senior year, and I want to make it the best year ever. Our community put a lot of their time to help bring back sports. I feel very grateful for having a community to back us up every step of the way. This situation is going to motivate our team and every other team to a point where we have never been before. I think that this minor setback is going to make us stronger as a school and a community.”
Aaron Caskey, a 16-year old junior on the varsity football team, agreed.
“I haven’t noticed anything different as far as our practices go,” he said. “Our coaches work hard with us every day, we work well together are a very motivated team.”
Of all the fall sports, football was perhaps the hardest hit by the budgetary constraints. And while the varsity team’s dedication was clear on the practice field leading up to this week’s trip to Valley Central, it’s undeniable that sacrifices have been made.
“There are a lot of things that we have to do without, but the alternative is not playing at all, so we can live with it for a year,” said head coach Mike Melville. “I just hope this isn’t going to be expected next year and the following years because each year the programs suffer. There’s equipment we have to do without, practice jerseys, pants that we have to order every year because they just wear out. For the kids to take pride in their program we as coaches ask them to do more and more, and in return we try to give them equipment and uniforms for both game and practice to make them feel they are a part of something great. The kids are happy they’re playing, but we have taken a hit to our program.”
Other sports have taken hits as well, whether through shortened regular seasons, less opportunity to compete in out-of-town tournaments or the need to stretch equipment much further than ever before because there might not be any if it falls apart. But despite knowing all that, Saugerties’ student athletes are still working as hard as ever to win for their school, their community and themselves.
“As much as I would like a longer season and new soccer balls, I am just happy I get to play this season,” said Chris LaTourette, a 14-year-old freshman on the varsity boys’ soccer team. “Even though we have a very short season, I think the soccer season has started out great.”
LaTourette’s coach, Mike Riley, said he’s seen a great deal of gratitude among his players as they’ve marched toward the fall season.
“Every player on our squad is thankful for the support that the people of Saugerties have shown to our student athletes,” he said. “As a coach, I cannot remember a squad as positive and anxious as this one.”
That excitement for the upcoming season is shared among the school’s female soccer players as well.
“We have a planned schedule for the fall season of soccer of 9 games, while over the years we usually have around 14 games a season, so it makes it a much shorter season,” said 14-year-old sophomore Hayley Spoljaric. “Though we’ve saved the sports, we have no extra money to pay for officials, tournaments and whatever else may be needed, but we’ve been doing a lot of fundraising to help pay for these necessities. Since the citizens of our town were so generous to help out and save our sports, we, as athletes, want them to know that we are working our hardest every day in practice and during games.”
Not every sport has been impacted equally. The boys’ golf team, for example, looks forward to a full season with few equipment expenditures to worry about.
“My golfers are very thankful to be playing golf this fall,” said coach Steve Eggink, who saw his team win its season opener at the Lazy Swan earlier this week with a solid 174-242 performance over Onteora at the Lazy Swan. “I think there is a big sense of relief with my entire team. Our golf schedule has not been affected by new budgetary constraints. We have a full schedule with two non-league matches included. As far as equipment in concerned, we only need golf balls. All players supply their own clubs, so overall costs are very low as far as the golf team is concerned. We’re looking forward to a successful season.”
Though the picture has come into focus for the district’s fall sports, there are still questions lingering about some of the winter and spring programs. Varsity wrestling head coach Scott Wickham this past week was still trying to determine whether his team would be able to compete in a Section 9 dual meet tournament they qualified for last year.
“I would hate to have any of these guys lose out, especially with the group of seniors we have coming back,” he said, though he added that if there’s a possibility to raise the funds to make it happen, the team will work hard to make it happen. “We’ll do what we can and put it together. My mind is always working to solve problems.”
Athletes in winter and spring sports have also begun preparing for their upcoming seasons. Rebecca Curley, a 16-year-old senior on the girls’ varsity basketball team said coach Steve Buonfiglio’s open gyms during the summer for girls at all levels of the game were sparsely attended during the summer’s early weeks when a season being played at all was still up in the air. That changed almost immediately once the season became guaranteed.
“For weeks, only four or five girls would show up,” said Curley. “There was motivation from some of the players, but most felt like it could be a waste of time because sports weren’t definite yet so why wake up early on a summer morning and come play basketball? The following week after the announcement that sports were saved, we had about 13. We actually got to scrimmage full court five-on-five.”
Even students who focus on spring sports are feeling an extra bit of motivation this time of year.
“Saugerties High School is pretty much based on sports,” said 17-year-old senior Briana Bivins, a varsity softball player. “Most of the students here do sports to keep them coming to school, and to keep them behaving and working hard to keep doing something they love. I don’t think the less games and the less equipment will bother anybody, as long as we have sports and can play the sports that we love. I think the sports are going better now and most of the kids are still here and nobody gave up on trying to get sports back.”
The district’s athletic director, Lee Molyneaux, agreed.
“I feel that the successful fund raising efforts have provided extra motivation to perform well in the classroom and on the playing field,” he said. “Having ‘lost’ sports for a few months made everyone involved realize how critical a role athletics play in a school system. Overall, I feel the athletes have responded very well to the situation and it’s great to see them out on the playing fields.”