Athletic committee kicks around idea of forming middle school soccer team

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Are you ready for some more soccer?

How about 7th- and 8th-grade soccer that might be coming to the Punxsutawney Area School District as early as this coming season?

Bill Vassallo, Punxsutawney Area School District athletic director, said that Phil Shenkle, boys’ varsity soccer head coach, approached him with the possibility of having a co-ed middle school soccer team.

"Some area schools have a boys’ and girls’ middle school teams, and there are a lot that have co-ed teams," he said.

Vassallo said with just one team the players would be allowed to receive some training and gain valuable experience in the Punxsy soccer program.

Shenkle said there are numerous schools in District IX that already have co-ed middle school teams: Redbank, St. Mary's, Elk County Catholic, Phillipsburg, Central Catholic in DuBois, Ridgeway, Brockway and Karns City.

"I was talking with some people from Brockway who gave me a 14-game schedule that they play," Shenkle said, adding that the organized league is co-ed and played in the fall.

He said he did some research and found some other schools in D-IX that have co-ed teams that Brockway didn't even play.

Shenkle said there two schools in the district that have middle school teams that are not co-ed, DuBois and Clearfield.

"DuBois has two middle school boys’ teams and two middle school girls’ teams, and Clearfield has a boys’ and girls’ team," he said.

Shenkle said Karns City has 7th- and 8th-grade co-ed teams.

"As we've been looking at the various needs of the program, the coaching staff would like to get ahold of these kids quicker and start teaching them what we want them to learn sooner," Shenkle said.

He said that in a community league, the players learn from the skill level of whatever mom or dad is the coach of the team that year, which dictates what soccer level the players are at.

"We've been talking about this for a number of years, and I thought it was time to bring it before the board and see what you thought," Shenkle said, adding that what he would like to do is to get a middle school 7th- and 8th-grade team that would be comprised of both boys and girls.

He said he is doing a test run right now where players are involved in the indoor soccer league winter season at the YMCA in DuBois.

Shenkle said they opened it up to 8th graders and instantly had 25 boys and girls showed up to play.

"Several of them backed out due to the interference with basketball, so we have 16 to 18 on two teams that are playing in DuBois currently," he said.

"That is only 8th grade, and we are confident that between 7th and 8th grades, we would have 40 kids that would be interested in it," Shenkle said.

He said talking informally with the 8th graders, many of them said they would play for sure in the fall season.

"They are basketball players, and they didn't participate in any sports in the fall," Shenkle said. "The advantage is we'd be getting the kids into our system and learning our program earlier. I've talked with Bill (Vassallo) and other coaches, and the benefits of getting players into their program earlier are huge."

Shenkle added that getting students into their program in the 7th grade helps the players down the road.

Shenkle said it would be good to spend more time with that age group and get to know them better.

"(It’d be nice to) develop a system in the Punxsy District for soccer that would become sustainable with more stability for years to come," he said.

Penny Pifer, committee member, asked if there would have to be two teams.
Shenkle said that for the first year, he would like to go with just one team for each grade.

"We would be playing in the fall, which brings up the issue of fields to play and practice on, fields that are already quite busy," he said.

Dave London, PAHS principal, asked if there would be tournaments for the team to attend in order to play more games and cut down on the travel.

"With 40 kids, you could easily play two to three games in a day," London said.

"That is a great idea, and Brockway is open to those kinds of ideas," Shenkle said.

He said there are other schools that would also participate in a tournament event.

Vassallo said the challenge would be to find a practice field and decide where to play the home games, as the high school stadium field is already scheduled quite heavily.

In other business:
• Vassallo said Janelle Burkett continues to represent Punxsutawney Area High School in gymnastics quite well and is accompanied by Heather Hansley to her competitions — most of which are held in DuBois.

• Vassallo said the committee is going to push to get the weight room and maintenance garage project moving and bring in someone to design or lay out a plan.

Pifer said there's a need for storage for athletics and the larger weight room.

• Vassallo said he had placed in the budget an allotment to have the band and cheerleaders attend all five of the varsity football away games next season and not have them pay for it out of their own funds.

"They are under our Title 9, and cheerleading is considered a sport," Vassallo said, adding that he would support the proposal in discussions with the administration concerning the budget.

• Vassallo said that head varsity football coach Alan Nichol wants to hold a tribute to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 undefeated football team during a home game next season and hold a social event following the game.

The next Athletic Committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, in the high school conference room.