Athletic director outlines sports assessment changes
By Jill Keppeler
Before business started at last Wednesday's Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education meeting, board members took a few minutes to honor a special guest.
Superintendent Daniel Ljiljanich presented Niagara County Deputy Sheriff Joe Tortorella with a plaque honoring him for his actions during an incident in April near Errick Road Elementary School.
Tortorella, who has been stationed in the Wheatfield area for years, responded to a 911 call at a home near the school, where he was confronted by the armed son of the home's owners, who had already shot and wounded his parents.
Tortorella called for a lockdown at the school and responded to gunfire from the other man. He was struck, but his bullet-proof vest protected him from injury, while the gunman was injured, retreated inside the home and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"This is quite an honor for me, actually," said Ljiljanich, who said he knew Tortorella when they were children. "I read about, from afar, his acts of heroism last year for our district."
"We just want to thank you on behalf of the students in our district," he told the deputy, who attended the meeting with his family, "... for your acts of heroism last year."
Steven Sabo, the board president, has children who attend Errick Road Elementary School.
"He put the lives of everyone in the school before his own ... He definitely deserves to be honored for that," Sabo said. "It was our schoolchildren he was protecting."
In other news, James Campbell, the district's director of health, physical education, athletics and health services, told the board about the Athletic Placement Process, new state standards for seventh- or eighth-grade students who want to try out for junior varsity or varsity sports.
"Basically it's safety," he told the board. "They're looking at the safety of students."
The APP includes many standards the younger students must meet before they can even try out for varsity or JV sports, including parental permission; assessment by the athletic administrator based on such criteria as likelihood of playing in at least half the games, academics and whether they're "socially ready to interact with students who are sometimes four, five, six years older than them," Campbell said; meeting the required Tanner level (which rates physical maturity) for the sport; passing a sport skills assessment; pass the President's Physical Fitness Test (conducted by a certified physical fitness teacher who is not a coach of that particular sport) and a final OK.
"Some of the standards are now very high. They are not sports specific. They are not level specific," said Campbell, who noted that only students who pass all parts of the APP are even permitted to try out.
Campbell said that while these changes make it more difficult for seventh- and eighth-graders to play at a JV or varsity level, the district will do what it can to help those who are interested take part.
"This is what we have to work with now," he said. "I'm hoping enough schools see flaws in this that we get them to change their minds."
Board member Gina Terbot expressed concern that the standards could be a Title IX violation, as they're not the same for male and female athletes. (Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding.) She also suggested looking into what it would take to begin a modified sports program for younger students.
The board also approved a bid award for a special needs transportation contract and accepted two donations (228 composition notebooks from Office Max in Niagara Falls for Colonial Village Elementary and school supplies from Girl Scout Troop No. 70065 for Edward Town Middle School).
It also adopted the comprehensive district educational planning goals, which include reviewing and revising district academic intervention services and response to intervention; using assessment at all levels to inform instructional decisions; developing common scope and sequence maps throughout the district; and developing and instituting a comprehensive kindergarten-through-12th-grade character education program
The next board of education meeting will take place Sept. 23 at the Adult Learning Center at the high school. Meetings start at 6 p.m. with executive session expected to take an hour. Return to public session is expected at 7 p.m.