JOHNSTOWN — On the field hockey pitch, normally mild-mannered Johnstown High School sophomore Taryn Ringer becomes a different person, a player her coach says has the competitive instincts of a "cold-blooded killer."
Ringer was named to the all-state team in 2018 and scored seven goals in a single game, tying a state record. When she's playing field hockey, she said, years of practice since starting the sport in elementary school take over and she acts on “muscle memory.”
Christine Krempa, Johnstown's varsity field hockey coach, said her niece normally has a friendly, "bubbly" personality. But sports have given Ringer the chance to grow, Krempa said, allowing Ringer to display leadership, assertiveness and selflessness, facets that have attracted national attention as one of Max Field Hockey's top 100 high school field hockey players in the United States, and made her a recruiting prospect for Division I field hockey colleges, schools that offer athletic scholarships.
"On the field hockey field, she's an extremely competitive person," Krempa said.
Last year, the Johnstown field hockey team went 18-1 before losing in the Section II finals. Ringer said she doesn't want that to happen again.
"I want to win. I want to go all the way to the state championship, and I want us to win it," said Ringer, who led Johnstown's girls' lacrosse team to an area championship this spring. "I think we can. As a team, we're very well-developed," she said.
Going into her junior year in the fall, Ringer should have expected to have two more cracks at adding a fifth state championship to Johnstown's storied field hockey program, winner of 14 sectional championships, with 22 title game appearances, over the past 35 seasons.
But these are not normal times in Johnstown.
On May 21 the Greater Johnstown School District school board, in an attempt to eliminate a $4.6 million budget shortfall, asked voters to approve a 35 percent tax levy increase, part of a two-year plan to raise the district's property tax levy about 50 percent from $8.6 million to closer to the regional average of $12.3 million.
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Johnstown's budget woes have come about from a combination of factors, school officials say, including smaller-than-needed tax increases in the past, rising salary and employee benefit costs the last decade and changing district demographics, which have led to a decline of about 330 students since 2009.
Before the vote, the school board made it clear to the public that if the budget failed, funding for sports teams, extracurricular clubs and high school elective classes would be eliminated and 19 staff positions cut.
Ringer said she was scared the day of the vote.
"I knew it would be close," Ringer said. "There are a lot of elderly people who are on fixed incomes, and that's a lot of Johnstown."
She was right; A three-vote majority was achieved amid record voter turnout. But that was far from the super majority needed to override the state property tax cap.
"I was hoping the community would come through, and they'd do it for the kids," Ringer said. "But it didn't work out that way."
Charlie Gagliardo, a junior boys' soccer and lacrosse player, said he was hopeful the budget could be adopted. But he said he knew the odds weren't great. He said he was saddened by the outcome.
"I just kept thinking about how I'm not going to be able to have these experiences next year, and how I could have played my last lacrosse game or my last soccer game without even knowing it," Gagliardo said.
One way Johnstown can maintain its sports teams and extracurricular activities is if district residents privately fundraise for the amounts needed — $311,000 for sports — and if 51 percent of district voters approve a 14.6 percent tax levy increase during a second budget vote on June 18, which includes $200,000 for sports transportation costs.
If the June 18 vote falls short of adopting a budget, private fundraising would be required for the entire athletics and extracurricular budgets. Johnstown would then be forced to adopt a contingency budget with no tax increase, and more stringent rules would take effect about allowing outside agencies to use district property for activities.
Ringer said she, and many of her fellow athletes, don't intend to let Johnstown's sports be eliminated.
"Ugh, it would be so devastating, devastating for everyone, like all sports, not just the field hockey team, not just me, everyone," Ringer said. "It's not something that should be taken away from high school."
Fundraising for sports
One of the staff position cuts in Johnstown’s budget was the elimination of its part-time athletic director.
Johnstown's fiscal crisis has forced cuts to its athletic department in recent years. In the 2018-19 budget it cut former athletic director
James Robare's position from $90,000 a year to a 40-percent-time job paid $37,000 a year. Robare resigned in April, and the district
appointed retired Knox Junior High School Principal Mike Satterlee to do the athletic director's duties on an hourly basis.
The workload for the district's athletic director mostly consists of its interscholastic sports teams. Johnstown's athletic program generally has between 360 to 420 student athletes who participate annually, about 60 to 70 students per class from 8th to 12th grade.
Satterlee said the district's funding crisis and the uncertainty over its sports programs has given the district’s athletic director more work to do than would occur over a typical summer.
"I'm getting paid for about three hours a day, but honestly today I got here at 7:10 a.m." he said speaking at about 1 p.m. on a Thursday. "It's all right, I'm going to do as much as I can for them. We'll see what happens with the budget vote, and our fundraising. If there's no need to have me here then I won't be."
Satterlee said school districts typically know well in advance whether they intend to field a sports team, so there's not a well-defined playbook for a district possibly discontinuing all of its athletics all at once. Meanwhile, other schools and league officials have been accommodating, he said.
"There's not one thing about this that I'm perceiving to be easy, to be honest with you. I've been in contact with the Foothills Council, and, jokingly, they told us we could let them know the day before we start, but I think realistically sometime in mid-August would be the most realistic drop-dead date," Satterlee said.
On May 30, the school board approved a fundraising plan for sports that includes benchmarks for each of the three sports seasons, fall, winter and spring.
Johnstown needs to raise $89,310 for its fall sports -- with $73,340 going to varsity, $30,230 to junior varsity and $30,300 for modified. The winter sports total would be $89,310 and for spring it would be $88,710, both with similar breakdowns for varsity, JV and modified.
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"Our goal is to reach our first benchmark, get fall going and hopefully by mid-October or so have everything else that we need for the rest of the year," Satterlee said.
If Johnstown fails to raise enough money to hit those benchmarks, the district will be forced to use a backup plan approved by the board that would decide which sports to fund based on a tiered system that will evaluate levels of participation, and the cost per athlete for participation.
"We'll have to make some really hard decisions," Satterlee said.
Satterlee said Johnstown has two combined sports teams in the winter, boys' swimming and wrestling, with the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, which may make it likely those sports would be funded should money be available, since the costs are shared. He said Johnstown may need to look at other sports team mergers with other districts in the future, but there probably won't be any new mergers for this year. He said the deadline for merging school sports for fall was in April, the deadline for winter is August, and it's January for spring sports.
Christine Krempa said its her goal to raise all of the money needed to prevent any elimination of sports teams.
"We don't want to get there. We don't want to break anyone's heart," Krempa said.
Satterlee and Krempa are part of a nine-member steering committee comprised of three coaches, three community members and three Purple and Gold Sport Booster Club members, formed to tackle the goal of raising $311,000.
Normally, Johntown's Purple and Gold Sport Booster Club raises small amounts of money to help supplement things the school can't afford, like the cost of varsity letters for students' jackets, plaques for sports awards, nets for field hockey and lacrosse goals, money for a sports banquet, that kind of thing. Krempa said the typical bake sale, small-scale-type fundraising activities the booster club has done in the past aren't going to cut it this year.
"We have to make it clear to the public that we cannot get caught up in the minutia of dining to donate, and raffles and pancake breakfasts; we'll never get there," Krempa said. "We do not want to fundraise for 10 months and have people feel the stress and the burden and the unknown. We don't have a lot of time. We need to tell the other schools we're playing, or we're not. The season starts Aug. 19. We're going to have to have a good chunk of change by then."
Krempa said the first fundraising event will be called "1,000 Citizens to Save Our Sports", set for June 19 at 6:30 p.m. inside the Johnstown High School auditorium, also know as the Center for Performing Arts. The goal of the event is to raise $200,000.
"We can't let a dollar go out the door," Krempa said. "So, we're going to be bold. There were 1,100 people who voted yes [to the proposed 35 percent tax levy increase] and we're going to ask them to show back up, and ask them to donate a minimum at that event of $200."
The steering committee is going to set up a gofundme.com page and attempt to tap corporate donors, like the businesses in the Johnstown Industrial Park, Krempa said. The Johnstown Industrial Park, home to companies like greek yogurt-maker Fage U.S.A. Dairy, Euphrates Cheese and the Walmart Distribution Center, is actually in the Fonda-Fultonville school district, meaning Johnstown doesn't receive school taxes from the properties inside the park.
Krempa said the committee hopes to convince those businesses to help support Johnstown's sports programs.
"Many of their employees have kids in this district," Krempa said. "And we'd love to see them step up and support the children of those employees."
Krempa said the Purple and Gold Sport Booster Club is not a 501c3 nonprofit, so she'll likely be using the school district's tax ID number for large donations. She said a permanent nonprofit fundraising entity may need to be created to help with fundraising for sports going forward, but there isn’t enough time to create one before August.
Donations from smaller businesses will also be important, Krempa said.
"We're going to be soliciting every local business in Johnstown, and a lot of them are family owned, like mine," she said.
Krempa and her husband Jeff, both Johnstown High School graduates, own Krempa Custom Landscaping & Design. They moved back to Johnstown 13 years ago to raise their three children, one a ninth grader who plays three sports and a set of twins in seventh grade. Jeff coaches Johnstown's alpine ski team, which had three athletes advance to the state competition last season.
Christine Krempa said she gave up a better-paying part-time job as a referee to coach her high school field hockey team, which won two state championships when she played for Johnstown between 1989-92.
She said she expects the team to win sectionals and advance deep into the state tournament this year, if fundraising efforts allow the season to happen. She said this group of athletes has been developed over the past eight years with a youth program paid for using a grant she helped secure from U.S.A. Field Hockey.
"The sophomore class is very strong, very athletic. I've had my eye on that class for six years,” Krempa said. “I love the girls. I've sacrificed a lot of time with my own kids and their own games to be with these girls and I wouldn't change it for the world.”
Krempa said she is hoping she can inspire the community to see the benefits of high school athletics.
"There is a value to having these kids on a field after school. It makes the whole community better. There have been studies after studies, and I'm not going to spout off about that, but kids have to have the opportunity to do something outside of the classroom," she said. "It teaches them selflessness, time management, it teaches them about doing something for the greater good, that's what teamwork is. I'm praying and hoping that our community will reach back to that civics lesson they had, possibly from Bill Pollack back when he was teaching, and come out and support these kids, whether they have kids in this district or not."
If the fundraising efforts fail, some youngsters in the district may leave it, including Ringer.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which governs interscholastic sports, does not permit student athletes and parents to pay tuition for students to transfer to another school district and immediately play sports. The association requires students to sit out for a full year after transferring, unless the student legally changes addresses and physically moves into the new school district.
"I would probably move," Ringer said.
Krempa said high-level athletes who want college athletic scholarships like Ringer have to consider all of their options.
"She's got so much to lose," she said. "I know her parents have looked into getting her into a different school district so she can continue to play. Those are honest discussions going on in her house."
Johnstown boys' lacrosse coach Scott Petrie said the funding interruption for Johnstown's sports couldn't come at a worse time for his lacrosse program, which has slowly developed its athletes through a feeder system over the past 10 years.
"We're peaking. We made it to the finals this year and lost. We only had two seniors. If the program gets interrupted, we're obviously going to lose a lot of players," Petrie said.
Unlike sports, Johnstown's unfunded extracurricular activities don't have a specific fundraising goal. But students and community members are organizing to try to help them.
If the June 18 budget proposal passes, the school district will put forward $33,000 to fund advisers for each high school class, JHS student council, JHS yearbook, Knox Student Council, Odyssey of the Mind and a treasurer for extracurricular funds. District residents will be asked to raise money for winter guard and the school's musical.
Superintendent Patricia Kilburn said a school-sponsored club has a chairperson, a stipend for its adviser, a bank account, a treasurer and regularly scheduled events. She said as long as the June 18 budget vote passes, the district will still be able to host events from outside groups, some of which could supplement some of the activities lost from the clubs that weren't funded.
"If kids want to do something privately they can. They will need their own insurance," Kilburn said.
If, however, the June 18 budget vote fails, Kilburn said, Johnstown will go to a contingency budget and outside groups will be required to pay all of the costs of using the district's facilities, including electricity costs and the labor costs of the custodial staff.
Johnstown High School junior Jacob Frenyea, student liaison to the school board, said the JHS Drama Club already has money for the musical. He said the club charges $12 for adults and $8 for students for its productions to make them mostly self-sufficient. He said the spring musica,l "The Addams Family,” had record attendance for the district's Performing Arts Center venue, with 800 people paying a combined $8,000 to watch it.
Frenyea said the JHS Drama Club and an outside organization called the Johnstown Music Support Group will be fund raising to help some of the smaller extracurricular clubs and activities that didn't receive any school funding, such as the high school's hiking club, history club and gaming club.
"The musical is happening, and so is winter guard. The only thing that has to be fundraised for those is coach salaries," he said.
Frenyea said the JHS Drama Club normally puts on a fall play, which was not funded in any way by the school budget. He said the cost of the play is minimal, but for students to bring it back this year they will need it to be affiliated with an outside organization with its own liability insurance policy. Students would then become riders on the liability insurance policy of the outside entity.
He said he intends to reach out to the Johnstown Colonial Little Theatre Group and The School of the Performing Arts at Proctors for help in reviving the fall play.
Frenyea said he aspires to be an actor, and the loss of the fall play would hurt his development as a performer. He said when he performed in Johnstown's fall 2018 play, the thriller comedy "The Zombie", it gave him a chance to do things he'd never done on stage before.
"It's a different kind of acting. It was my first ever non-musical experience on stage. Doing a straight play helps your ability to hone the ability to have conversations with people on stage, and be more human like, and not be like a machine like you kind of are in a musical, where you'll be talking to somebody and then break into song and dance," he said.
Frenyea said the funding crisis at Johnstown is offering students like him the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of fund raising, and complex topics like insurance and the formation of nonprofit corporations.
"It's hard because with sports they have the booster club, but there's not really a set group, club for extracurriculars for fund raising," Frenyea said. "It's definitely an opportunity to learn about leadership, and taking charge. I'm sure if I didn't do this somebody else would have stepped up, but I just knew I didn't want to see these programs go down without somebody trying to help these students.”
Kilburn said there are many avenues for people to donate money to support extracurricular activities at Johnstown.
"Any existing, running extracurriculars can fund raise. For example, the classes of 2020, 2021, can, student council can, the Parent Teacher Associations can, and the district can receive direct contributions as well," she said.
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