By Jennifer Ortiz
HOWELL – The availability of extracurricular opportunities for students has been a topic of discussion in the Howell K-8 School District this year. At a recent meeting, the Board of Education’s focus was on middle school baseball teams.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Isola said the board has historically supported extracurricular activities. He said baseball has been a point of discussion among people who advocate for more baseball, to a PTA officer who said that although her child was cut during baseball tryouts, that disappointment led the youngster to opportunities in other sports.
Isola said only two schools in Monmouth County have more than one baseball team – a middle school in Manalapan and a middle school in Wall Township.
“I don’t know the specific details about Wall Township like I do about Manalapan. (The Manalapan Englishtown Middle School) has 1,300 to 1,400 students … it is a large seventh and eighth grade middle school … That school has an eighth grade team and a seventh grade team and the important thing to note is that those teams do not offer sixth-graders (who attend a different school) a spot on either of them,” Isola said.
Howell has two middle schools which educate sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Sixth-graders may try out for baseball and Isola said two or three sixth-graders typically earn a spot on the team.
Isola said a small school league could be an option for another team, but he said he does not think baseball is the venue to expand opportunities. He said baseball has always been a sport in which some students who try out are cut during the selection process.
“Baseball is a very specific sport, with pitching involved, arm development … and there is certainly a difference between a sixth- and eighth-graders,” he said. “Certainly, there are sixth-graders developmentally (ready) and skilled enough to play. We offer those kids those opportunities. Those opportunities still exist for the exceptional kids. It is not about not providing opportunities, it’s about finding the right opportunities.”
He said the mission of school is to educate children and to find opportunities for them to flourish and grow in the classroom and out of the classroom.
“I really have the confidence we are doing that. It is something we have to balance during very hard times in terms of fiscal responsibility in our communities,” the superintendent said.
Isola said this year, 64 students signed up for tryouts at Howell Middle School North: 20 sixth-graders, 20 seventh-graders and 24 eighth-graders. A total of 78 students signed up for tryouts at Howell Middle School South: 35 sixth-graders, 19 seventh-graders and 24 eighth-graders.
“It does not appear to me that sixth-graders were discouraged in the attempt to try out,” Isola said. “We ensure interaction. There has been an increase of four (students) trying out for cheerleading compared to a year ago. That does not give us a reason to (create) a new cheerleading team. We are meeting the needs very similarly to the way we were last year and I think that is prudent and fair.”
Board President Tim O’Brien said that since reductions were made during the Great Recession, the board has worked to restore services and student activities.
“My understanding is that we have done a good job rebuilding what we had,” O’Brien said.
During public comment, resident Kenneth Jannarone said he is involved with Little League baseball in Howell.
He said that during the 2014-15 school year there were three middle schools in Howell and at each school between 60 and 70 students tried out for baseball, for a total of about 200 children trying out.
A district reconfiguaration for the 2015-16 school year eliminated a middle school. In total at the two remaining middle schools, about 150 children tried out for baseball this year.
“Those kids (who tried out last year) did not disappear this year. They are still there,” Jannarone said.
He said he believes adding a baseball team at each middle school would be a good move. Jannarone said district administrators indicated that the reconfiguration of Howell’s schools would not hurt activities, but he said that is not the case.
“I don’t know how you get around that. You went from three baseball teams to two baseball teams. You went from six basketball teams to four basketball teams. You have lost teams and overall opportunities,” he said.