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Johnstown community raises funds to keep school athletics going after budget cuts

Johnstown community raises funds to keep school athletics going after budget cuts

Support comes from near and far
Johnstown community raises funds to keep school athletics going after budget cuts
Student-athletes from Johnstown welcome supporters of their sports program Wednesday.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

JOHNSTOWN — Mike Hallenbeck was at Johnstown High School Wednesday evening supporting an athletic program that, come this fall, he'll be trying to defeat.

Hallenbeck coaches girls' varsity soccer at neighboring Gloversville, the biggest rival of the Sir Bills and Lady Bills teams.

"It's for the kids. It goes beyond the Gloversville-Johnstown thing," Hallenbeck said before entering the Johnstown's auditorium. "I would think if the shoe was on the other foot, they'd do the same thing."

Johnstown's "1,000 Citizens to Save Our Sports" fundraiser was awash in purple and gold, and some other colors, as well, like the Gloversville maroon and the dark blue and yellow of the ADK field hockey club.

Johnstown coaches, student-athletes and administrators are looking to raise $311,000 to keep modified, junior varsity and varsity sports running after they were omitted from the school's 2019-20 budget, and Wednesday was the first big step toward that end.

"We're getting support from people not in our community," Johnstown varsity football coach and physical education teacher Tyler Hall said. "Field hockey teams, lacrosse teams, Section II football coaches, they've all reached out. The support has been overwhelming. People understand what sports mean to kids. I wouldn't be where I am without sports."

"I got a check today from a Fonda parent who has no stake in this game," said Beth Connelie, who coaches the combined Fonda/Johnstown modified swimming team and works as a substitute teacher in the Johnstown district. "He realizes how important sports are."

Johnstown residents approved a $37.87 million budget for the 2019-20 academic year Tuesday night — the second year in a row the budget passed on a second try after an earlier defeat — but within it came no funding for sports and extracurricular activities such as plays, music groups and clubs.

"When it first got voted down, all of the coaches got together and said, 'We're going to save it,'" Johnstown varsity girls' lacrosse coach Denise Benton said. "Then we brought in the booster club. We're going to save this program. We all had our time when we were younger. It's their time now."

"We're all in it for the long haul," Hall said.

Many Johnstown student-athletes clapped loud and hard with the announcement of each donation. A large screen on the auditorium stage displayed a running tally of the contributions.

"I'm going to try not to cry," Benton said. "We have so much support."

Johnstown student-athletes lined to school entrances to thank every donor.

"This huge turnout, it shows everyone cares," Johnstown junior lacrosse and soccer player Charlie Gagliardo said. "I thought the community would step up and [help] the students. I had faith. Look at the line out the door. Its crazy."

"Tonight is about, 'Let's make a huge dent,' and then we'll go back to the drawing board and come up with some other ways [to generate donations]," Hall said.

Jen Sykes, an ADK field hockey coach and administrator, said the organization will be conducting a youth tournament to benefit Johnstown athletics July 13-14 at the University at Albany.

"Field hockey is a tight-knit community," said Sykes, who also coaches varsity field hockey at Guilderland. "We're here tonight to help a little bit, and all of the money we raise from our tournament will go to the purple and gold."

Wednesday's event raised $94,850.75.

"We'll find other ways. We'll reach out to alumni. We've got social media," Johnstown interim athletic director Mike Satterlee said. "Tonight was a good start. We're a third of the way there."

Saterlee said it will take roughly $120,000 to fund Johnstown's fall sports programs.

"Tonight is not a surprise," Connelie said. "I knew the community would come through for the kids."

Johnstown's varsity girls' lacrosse team won its first Section II championship since 2006 back on May 23, just days after Johnstown's first budget proposal was defeated.

Johnstown's varsity boys' lacrosse team, varsity girls' field hockey team and girls' alpine skiing team were Section II runner-ups this school year, while swimmer Alayna Gray was among the the high school's individual athletic standouts with a pair of Section II titles and state meet placings.

Mechanicville successfully raised funds to operate its athletic program in the wake of school budget woes in 2006.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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