LINCOLN – Members of the Lincoln School Committee say they’re frustrated by the decision to cancel this year’s freshman basketball program amid a facility crunch.
Athletic Director Greg O’Connor said the decision wasn’t one anyone took lightly.
“When I heard that it was (canceled) I was a little surprised,” said John Picozzi, who asked for the reasons behind the move during Monday’s School Committee meeting.
O’Connor said it came down to issues with facilities, space and time. There are six to eight high school teams competing for athletic time in one facility, plus three middle school teams doing the same at LMS, he said.
“Running all of those programs under one roof at the high school wasn’t possible,” O’Connor said. “By no means does this mean it’s cut. We’re just facing issues with facilities, COVID, transportation … it’s not feasible this year.”
Picozzi said he respectfully disagrees, noting that they rent space to outside organizations at several Lincoln schools. O’Connor said they can’t safely put high school students in elementary school gyms. Having the freshmen practice at the middle school would take space away from LMS programs, he said.
Member Steven Carvalho said he’s also frustrated by the decision.
“I’ve had many, many people call about this,” he said. “There are a lot of people at a crossroads deciding whether to stay here in Lincoln, and I really feel we could be losing people. We should have done everything we could to have that program in play.”
The issue, Picozzi said, is that a basketball program was in the budget, and that the committee expected it would run.
There was some discussion on whether Lincoln Youth Basketball could be pushed a bit later in the evening, but O’Connor said he was worried about the educational impact on students who are out playing or practicing until late in the evening.
A total of 16 students tried out for the freshman team. Five made it onto the junior varsity team, and one onto varsity, but the remaining 10 won’t get the chance to play this year.
Carvalho, a former freshman coach, said they always aimed to keep around 25 players on the team every year because they had no idea of the ability of a child in the younger grades.
“Sixteen kids had the opportunity to play when it was budgeted,” he said. “We have no idea what they could be accomplishing. They’re probably never coming back to basketball because a group of people decided to keep only five or six.”
He said he was also concerned about the impact of the younger students who do make the varsity teams, being on the same bus with older athletes and potentially taking the spot of an upperclassman.
“Bottom line, there are 16 kids that could have played, giving them a better path than sitting at home,” Carvalho added.
Chairman Joseph Goho said the School Committee typically doesn’t involve itself in these types of issues, but several members of the community have reached out to express concerns and asked the committee to weigh in.
When passing the annual budget, Goho said, there’s an expectation that the programs in the budget will run. There will be changes, but “in a case like this with a small amount of money for a coach, referee fees and transportation fees, the expectation was to have freshman basketball as part of the athletic program … and now we don’t.”
Goho said one of his concerns is the loss of the North Gym, saying he recognizes the fact that Lincoln is desperate for athletic space. Still, he said, he doesn’t agree that practicing at an elementary school would be unsafe, just not ideal.
“It’s hard to understand how cutting freshman basketball is good for kids,” he said.
He questioned the timeline of events leading to the decision to cancel the program. The last freshman basketball coach resigned in November, two weeks before the start of the regular season.
Asked whether the resignation weighed into the decision, O’Connor said it was more about space, timing and transportation.
Member Staci Rapko asked that moving forward, the committee be informed before decisions like these are made, especially when it comes to cutting budgeted programs.
Picozzi asked for a vote to ensure that the program returns next year. If any obstacles arise that would prevent the program from running, he and other members asked that the committee be involved.
The committee ultimately voted to ensure that any budgeted Lincoln school program, if in jeopardy of being canceled, be brought to the committee.