Building their own: Students, volunteers bring sports opportunities to NSHS

Building their own: Students, volunteers bring sports opportunities to NSHS

Volunteers work to install a new jumping pit at the North Smithfield High School Athletic Complex.
New Track and Field Club gets jumping thanks to huge community effort

NORTH SMITHFIELD - The past several years have proven to be a time of austerity for the North Smithfield School Department, when few learning programs are expanded due to budget constraints, and sports teams are perpetually threatened.

But members of the North Smithfield Athletic Association won't let that ruin their fun.

The NSAA, a volunteer group of parents, coaches and teachers with the mission of supporting town athletics and athletic groups is now leading the way to create a new track and field program at North Smithfield High School, and has already accomplished step one: installing a jumping pit at the Athletic Complex.

"It's really been a great community effort," said Bill Nangle, NSAA president. "In order to have a track and field team, you need a jumping pit."

The 12-by-25-foot dirt pit was built - with the help of donated equipment, labor and supplies - beside the track at the Athletic Complex and will be used as a landing zone as students learn to compete in feats like the long jump.

It will be used, for certain, by the 50-plus student athletes who have already joined the school's new Track and Field Club.

The idea for the club started after students were given a survey last fall asking what sports programs they had interested in.

"The high school has an issue with athletics and complying with Title 9," explained Nangle.

The Federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal funds.

"There's not a lot of athletics for girls in the spring and it's a problem," Nangle said.

The two sports that rated the highest in interest among students who took the survey were track and field and lacrosse. The high school did not offer a track and field program at the time, and for lacrosse, a club had only recently turned into a self-funded varsity team.

"Those are the two that the Athletic Association is going to push really hard to get the School Department to embrace in the future," said Nangle. "The goal right now is to try to convince the School Deprtment that lacrosse should be funded next year.

The association was founded in 2010 when community members first came together to raise funds to save school sports programs slated to be cut from that year's budget. Known then as "The Northmen Club," the group raised $110,000 to save the programs, eliminating the need for the cuts.

In 2012, they changed their name to the North Smithfield Athletic Association and with it, their focus. While the group would still work to assist school athletic groups, organizers said they would no longer be affiliated with the School Department, and would instead to supplement district funding, taking care of the teams' emergency needs throughout the year. NSAA also began offering some adult programming, including a volleyball league.

NSAA holds several fundraisers each year including the Northmen 5K, scheduled for May 29; the NSAA Golf Tournament, to be held June 14; Relay for Sports; and in the past, the Green and Gold Ball. This year, the ball was replaced with a wine and beer tasting at The Village Haven, which Nangle says was "wildly successful."

Their efforts bring in some $35,000 to $55,000 each year, money used to help support both high school and middle school teams, and maintain not only a successful adult volleyball program but also an adult soccer league with more than 60 participants.

And although school sports still seem to get targeted every year for cuts during budget season, NSAA retains their focus, creating new opportunities for students even as political fights over money play out.

"Our thinking is the School Department should cover all of the needs - everything a coach has to have to put a team on the field, the court or the ice," said Nangle.

NSAA, in turn, focuses on the "wants" - the extra items a team could use to help with training, like the foam rollers recently purchased for the girls soccer team to help with stretching.

They do it with a lot of help from the community.

Beauchemin Lumber donated materials for the jumping pit project and Holliston Gravel and Sand delivered the sand. Grapevine Landscape sent in a few workers with the needed equipment, and Steve D'Agostino of D'Agostino Sealcoating & Striping Inc. gave his time and equipment to dig out the runway and pit. Additional help was provided by the North Smithfield School Department, the town of North Smithfield and Art Eddy.

Plus 35 of the club athletes showed up to work.

"Everything's done on a voluntary basis, and the club is not in the Interscholastic League," Nangle said of the Track and Field Club. "There's no funding for it now."

Still, Nangle says the club hopes to have a couple of meets this year, and in a couple of years, he's hopeful the school will establish a team.

And on Friday, May 9, NSAA plans to try out the new jumping pit at their annual Family Fun Night, when students will get their first chance to 'run, jump and throw' at a night of races, track events, music, and food. Members of Bryant University's Track & Field Team will be assisting with the event, which is free and open to North Smithfield residents of all ages.

Registration starts at 6:15 p.m. at the Athletic Complex with events beginning at 7 p.m.

There will be no prizes or trophies for those who take part in contests like the 50 and 100 yard dash, the running long jump and the standing broad jump. It's just a chance for students to try the events, and maybe have a little fun.

"That's really what we want to do on May 9 is let the kids jump in the sand so they know what its all about," Nangle said.

But first, the group still needs to build a 250 foot runway leading up to the pit. For that, NSAA will throw down around $2,000.

In the end, for Nangle, it's worth it to see kids get a chance to find a sport they enjoy.

"You don't have to be a great athlete to run track. Any kid can run, any kid can jump," he said. "There's a lot of diamonds in the rough that could turn this into a college opportunity."