Football praised, cell tower decried, board delays deciding

Rappahannock County Public Schools got an excellent turnout for football Tuesday night — which delayed an excellent turnout for (or actually, against) cell towers on school property.

It was not a football game but the school board’s monthly meeting at the high school that eventually ended without a clear winner, or a decision by the board, on either matter.

Many in the standing-room-only crowd of more than 90 rose to speak about why the board shouldn’t cancel the school’s football program. The program was actually not an action item on the board’s agenda Tuesday, although that wasn’t made clear on the many posters that went up at Quicke Mart and other local groceries, along with an apparent flurry of emails and text messages that went out to supporters over the weekend. After the discussion, the board tabled the football issue until February, pending further discussion.

And then, for the decision that was on the agenda — whether to enter into a lease with Community Wireless Structures, which has proposed to build a cell tower on school property and lease it to major carriers — the board decided to wait until its next meeting, on Jan. 13.

Some 15 parents, students and supporters who want to keep the Junior Panther and varsity football programs in place, and another nine citizens unanimously opposed to the cell tower proposal, nearly all of them school parents or neighbors, spoke. By the time they were finished, it was almost 11 p.m., and among the many who had left was Wakefield district school board member Chris Ubben, a deputy who had to get to his late-night shift at the sheriff’s office. So the board postponed its decision a month.

The varsity football team, resuscitated three years ago after a poor team turnout forced the school division to cancel its schedule in 2011, has not won a game in its last two seasons. A report by athletic director Jimmy Swindler and a recommendation by superintendent Donna Matthews were submitted to the school board for Tuesday’s meeting. The administrators’ conclusion was the program should actually continue — if there were at least 25 members of both the Junior Panther and varsity squads.

This fall’s varsity team ended the season at 25 players. The J.P. team, which did win one game, closed with 18.

Incoming Rappahannock County School Sports Association (RCSSA) president Kelly Bennett told the board Tuesday that “the teamwork, leadership and camaraderie that this team has brought” is valuable. “The money? We’ll raise it, that is what we do.”

“It’s the losing in life that builds character,” she said.

Coach Mark Heinle told the board he is looking hard at future schedules and finds “four winnable games next year . . . it would be great to look down the road and have a freshman and a varsity team.”

Said Corey Hill of Amissville: “You have supporters; every game I came out to, [the place] was packed . . . you gotta keep it together.”

Swindler said Wednesday he’s not as worried about the varsity team having enough players for the next two years as he is of the J.P. team. Any fewer than 25 players on a team, he noted, means many will be playing both offense and defense — a recipe for increased injuries.

“It’s not about winning and losing, it’s not about money,” Swindler said. “It’s about numbers. I can field a soccer team with 12 kids. You can’t do that with football.

“I can’t tell you how many parents tell me that their younger kids will play rec-league football [in Fauquier, Culpeper and Warren counties] until they’re old enough to play varsity ball at our high school,” Swindler said. “I say, ‘If you do that, by the time they get to the high school we won’t have a football team.’ We need a feeder program for younger kids.”

Jed Duvall also contributed to this report.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 545 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.