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Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013: Final thoughts from the annual NYSPHSAA meeting

   Leading off today: Two days of sitting in on the Central Committee sessions at the annual New York State Public High School Athletic Association meeting this week was a wise investment of time for me in terms of understanding the mechanics of the system -- something I would recommend for any reporter who expects to write about "big picture" issues in high school sports.

   It was also a reminder that gatherings like this typically consist of 5 percent whining, 15 percent social chatter and fraternization, 25 percent philosophical and theoretical discussion on meat-and-potato issues, 35 percent rehash of present policy and future changes and 45 percent spitballing to find ways to innovate and improve.

   And if that math makes sense to you, then you may be hired to work alongside the bureaucrat who figured out how to violate the spirit of the rule if not the letter of the law in twisting enrollment figures to the advantage of the Rochester City School District, a subject I discussed in a blog late last month.

   Just when I thought that topic was going to receive a full airing Wednesday during the second and final day of NYSPHSAA meetings outside Rochester, discussion was more or less shut off. Strictly speaking, pulling the plug on the subject was proper on two counts: (1) The topic wasn't an official agenda item; and (2) the rule on program consolidations that allows for the reduction of BEDS figures of a graduated scale doesn't even officially kick in until next month. Yes, some problems are apparent, but there will be time during and after the two-year experiment to do more thorough analysis.

   Paraphrasing a source who summed up the subject later, count on the topic making it onto the agenda either at next summer's meeting or the day after someone loses a Section 5 basketball game to Franklin next February.

   In fact, the topic came up only as an afterthought following the committee's vote to approve membership in Section 5 and the NYSPHSAA of Rochester Academy Charter School -- and that's as good a place as any to start was the recap of what was mostly a pro forma session in the annual meetings.

   The afternoon's session began with some no-brainers: approving Cornell University to continue as host of the boys golf championship through 2016, ratifying qualifying standards for the boys swim meet, tweaking policy to give executive staff members more latitude in handling their own pension investments, etc. All sailed through with unanimous approval, and there was barely any discussion let alone dissent until Section 1 reps raised some reasonable concerns about a measure to reduce the number of required gymnastics contests in some sections from six to four per season. Still, that change was also OK'd.

   The fun began with the vote on membership for Rochester Academy Charter School. In the discussion phase, the "R" word ("recruiting," for the uninitiated) popped up first in respect to it being a potential concern about that particular school and then as it related to charter schools in general. Almost as quickly as private schools could be dropped into the conversation, that particular discussion was over with a reminder that charter schools are in fact public schools. As such, they're all but assured membership in the NYSPHSAA as long as they ask to join and confirm they intend to abide by the rules.

   At that point, Section 5 Executive Director Ed Stores -- who had just fired off the funniest comment I heard in two days of talks, though I cannot for the life of me remember now what it was -- asked a perfectly logical question that set the table for the unexpected airing of concerns about the graduated scales for combined programs.

   In short, Stores wanted to know whether "new" Rochester City School District schools needed to be approved for membership, seeing how Franklin and Edison each now consist of numerous "schools within schools," the loophole that reduces their enrollments for classification purposes to a fraction of what their actual enrollment is because of the graduated scale applied to combined teams.

   For the first time in two days, the committee found itself immersed in an issue that blended black-letter law with a sizeable gray area, resulting in much flipping through the state handbook by several people in the room.

   When that resulted in more questions than answers, Executive Director Robert Zayas did the same thing that every committee member, school superintendent, athletic director and reporter in the state did previously: They asked Nina Van Erk, who held Zayas' job for 11 years before returning to Long Island last summer to become executive director of Section 8.

   In the end, it was determined that these "new" schools do in fact have membership and the school district is in compliance by providing the respective BEDS figure for each. What could get interesting, however, is if rules are either re-interpreted or re-worded down the road to make them pay separate dues.

   Said the aforementioned source I spoke to afterwards: "It doesn't really matter. The next time the rule is addressed, every student (attending classes) at the same physical address will be rolled up into one school."

   More from Wednesday: Aside from the action items, there were several other topics up for discussion at the NYSPHSAA meeting. Among the highlights:

    • There was very little inclination in the room to consider adopting stringent rules recently passed in New Jersey that could construe some forms of taunting and trash-talking to be violations of civil rights, thereby triggering involvement of the state's attorney general or local law enforcement.

    More likely, game officials in various sports will be asked to be more vigilant in applying and enforcing rules that are already on the books.

    • Zayas advocated for the return of face-to-face meetings during the year between sports coordinators, something that was done away with in recent years due to budget considerations. The mood in the room seemed to be that the expense could not be justified, but individual sections will be given the chance to discuss it further.

   One of the best arguments for restoring the meetings is that anyone who has been on a conference call involving football site

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more than four people knows how difficult it is to discuss/debate issues in a phone call.

    • New York is likely to join the three states (Arizona, Texas and Pennsylvania) that have such restrictions sooner rather than later in writing a rule limiting the number of full-contact football practices allowed per week. This would rank as a more newsworthy nugget in the blog if not for the fact that the standard is likely to be less strict than what nearly all coaches abide by now as a matter of common sense -- i.e., four straight days of full-contact practices before a game is more likely to be detrimental than useful.

    • Rules governing foreign/international students in high school sports could be heading for some revisions, though the State Education Department will have to get involved to make some of it happen. There's a lot of sentiment out there (and it extends far beyond New York, by the way) these days that says a student who plays soccer in his/her homeland, should be able to play any sport except soccer while in the United States for a year of study.

   We're 20 years beyond the worst abuses, but there are still coaches and administrators out there who find ways to twist foreign-exchange programs to their advantage.

    • The NYSPHSAA's revenue-sharing program is in its first year, and some sections already want changes so that the money distributed to the 11 sections is pegged toward the number of total students rather than total schools.

   It's a fair point on their part, and there may be a compromise hammered out soon so that sections with lots of large schools (i.e., Nassau and Suffolk counties) get a larger slice of the pie.

   Exiting the scene: Best wishes go out to Lauren Mariacher of The Buffalo News, who wrote a most gracious and eloquent farewell blog on Wednesday announcing that she is moving to Nebraska.

   Though the Columbia University School of Journalism grad co-hosted weekly live high school sports video streams with reporter Keith McShea, Mariacher made her mark primarily as one of the nameless, faceless people behind the scenes who have everything to do with the success of a business. She was in no small part responsible for The Buffalo News being miles ahead of every New York newspaper-turned-media company north and west of Westchester County in multi-faceted coverage of scholastic sports.

   Another departure: Maurice "Moe" Hicks has left his position as director of men's basketball operations at St. John's, presumably to return to working on the sidelines after three years behind a desk with the Red Storm.

   Hicks has an impressive resume in high school and AAU basketball, including coaching Rice High to a 352-86 mark in 16 seasons before the Manhattan school closed its doors in 2010. His run there included five state Federation championships between 1996 and 2009, and Hicks was selected CHSAA coach of the year seven times, He also coached Louis Brandeis from 1990-94, snaring a PSAL crown in 1992.

   Health issue benches coach: Yonkers Saunders football coach Mel Carrozza has resigned after treatment on a herniated disc in his back failed to remedy the problem.

   “It just wasn’t going to work for me to coach,” he told The Journal News. “I just wasn’t getting better.”

   The Blue Devils went 6-2 last fall, losing in the Section 1 Class A quarterfinals. The school district has not named his replacement.

   More coaching news: Corinth, which lost Jeff Higgins to a job at a high school in Florida, has hired Hudson Falls graduate Chris Doody to coach football. Doody coached JVs at Schuylerville the past two years.

   South Glens Falls has elevated veteran football assistant Tony Ciuffetelli to replace Mike Hammond, who stepped down after two seasons for family reasons. Hammond's wife Laurie was coached softball there for more than 20 years.

   Extra points: The merged Bishop Kearney / Wayne / Eastridge boys ice hockey program is no longer in the running for the clunkiest name in New York sports (don't fret; keep reading for details on several new contenders). Citing a decline in interest at all three schools, officials have disbanded the program.

   Central Square and Fulton will field a combined hockey team next season, with players from Phoenix and Red Creek also part of the mix. East Syracuse-Minoa, which had been combined with Central Square for hockey previously, will instead send its skaters to Fayetteville-Manlius.

   Section 3 has also OK's Utica's return to varsity hockey. The Proctor High-based team will take in players from several surrounding school districts.

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