Adding boys soccer to Pembroke High School's fall sports line-up needs more study -- that was the request of a couple of speakers at Tuesday's school board meeting and the decision of the board.
The board will appoint up to 16 people to a new committee to study the issue. The committee will include coaches, parents and students representing interests in not only soccer, but football, volleyball and cross-country.
The primary concern of those opposed to adding soccer is that it will detract from, if not lead to the elimination of, other sports.
Elizabeth Gabbey said if Pembroke was a Class A sport, she would fully support adding soccer and even be at all the games, but with declining enrollment in Pembroke, a Class C program, she fears even the football program could die if competing for athletes and support with soccer.
"Are we willing to risk our football program or our volleyball program by adding a fourth sport?" she asked. "If we lose our football program, what will happen to football cheerleaders? This is an impact that not is just adding a team."
She added that boys who play soccer have club teams they can join, which still provide a path to college sports, but that's not an option open to football players.
One of the football coaches, and a teacher at Pembroke, spoke against the way the issue has been handled to this point, implying that soccer supporters were trying to push through the program without giving opposition voices a chance to raise concerns.
"I also wish to express the opinions of the thousands of concerned and unpretentious residents of this community who chose not to provoke others to bias the democratic decision making here at Pembroke with an intimidating show of force," Matthew Peterson said.
"I simply wish to have this statement read aloud to illustrate on record that many others disagree with both the means and the ends of adding an additional fall boys' sports program, and I choose to do so without the media hoopla and disruptions that surely accompany the throngs of people incited to be here tonight."
Peterson also took issue with the idea that soccer playing boys don't have an option at the high-school level in Pembroke.
"The most misunderstood idea centered on soccer is that students here greatly desire to play soccer and are being denied," Peterson said. "That assumption is entirely false! Soccer does exist here and students do have the opportunity to play from ages 5 to 19 in the spring season through PYA.
"The argument and the hidden agenda is to add another soccer team to compete in the fall, funded by the school district, and competing with and drawing from a dwindling student population. Let us not lose sight of the reality that soccer already exists at Pembroke."
(Read Peterson's full statement here)
Scott Birkby said he's coached both football and soccer in the district for years and knows pretty much all the boys who play either football, soccer or both, and when this issue came up, he surveyed the players to see if a boys soccer team in the fall would hurt football.
"I don't have proof," Birkby said. "I don't have the boys signatures, but I can say from my research, the net impact for the short term would be a total of only three players."
Birkby suspects volleyball might be the sport eventually phased out, which may happen anyway because of declining enrollment and the lack of nearby teams from similarly size schools.
He said the team must often travel two and three hours for matches against larger schools.
"It's not a very successful program," he said.
Tina Curtis (dark hair in the middle of the top photo) and Rene Birkby, parents who have been leading the effort to reinstate soccer, said they were taken aback by the opposition.
Curtis said the soccer-supporting group is ready to do what it takes to ensure the program is not a financial drain on the district.
"These boys are not asking for fancy new equipment or jerseys," Curtis said. "They’re willing to donate soccer balls and wear old uniforms. They’re only desire is to play soccer and represent their school. We are willing to work with the district to raise the funds to offset this program."
Superintendent Gary Mix (inset photo) applauded the parents for thoroughly and honestly studying the issue and the students for showing leadership in bringing it forward. But he said, inevitably, somebody is going to be disappointed by whatever decision is reached.
"Any direction we go from this point forward is going to be a challenge," he said.
The district is facing a number of difficulties with declining enrollment and state budget cuts.
Only a small minority of schools of Pembroke's size can run successful programs in all of its sports, and success is important, he said.
"It's easy for us as adults to believe that the important thing is not winning or losing, but rather students having fun," Mix said. "That's true to an extent, but a big part of the fun is experiencing success."