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BREAKING NEWS: School board approves start of new era of Foothill athletics; sports teams to start in 2014

(From left) Sophomores Evan Askar and Allison Champagne and juniors Veronica Lopez and Noah Davis are just a few students at Foothill who play sports. Students entering Foothill's freshman class in 2014-2015 will no longer play sports for Buena or Ventura high schools. Photo illustration credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press
(From left) Sophomores Evan Askar and Allison Champagne and juniors Veronica Lopez and Noah Davis are just a few students at Foothill who play sports. Students entering Foothill’s freshman class in 2014-2015 will no longer play sports for Buena or Ventura high schools. Photo illustration credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press

Ventura Unified School District trustees unanimously approved the superintendent’s recommendation to launch a Foothill athletics program Tuesday, with the first teams beginning to play in the 2014-2015 school year.

The decision will usher in a new era of sports at the 1,000-student campus over a four-year transition period. By 2017-2018, no Foothill students will be playing for Ventura or Buena.

“I am hopeful that this could get more students what they want and get them to where they want to be,” superintendent Trudy T. Arriaga said. “Let it be known that we are going to move forward.”

The five-member school board met with district administrators Tuesday afternoon in a special study session.

The Channel League athletic conference had instructed Ventura Unified to cease operating under the multi-site agreement last year, but it eventually postponed the decision to give the district more time for planning.

“I see the board as having two decisions,” Arriaga said. “We can just continue with what is offered by the Channel League, and there would be no Foothill athletics, or we can continue to move forward.”

Arriaga said she believes it is the role of the board to provide opportunities such as athletics to all students and advocated to initiate a Foothill athletics program.

“With all that we know about sports, the connections, the academic correlations, the teamwork, the health and wellness, to say to 1,000 students ‘not for you’ would be irresponsible to the students,” Arriaga said.

Approximately 300 Foothill students, or 30 percent, participate in athletics at their “boundary” high schools, Buena and Ventura.

As far back as 2001, Channel League officials expressed concerns about whether they should continue Foothill’s multi-site agreement, given the increasing size of the student body.

When Foothill was founded in 2000, it only had about 280 students, however total enrollment in the fall of 2012 grew to 998. League members have stated they believe that a school of this size has enough students to maintain its own athletic program.

Most schools with multi-site agreements are between 200 and 300 students, and many schools the size of Foothill are able to provide their own sports teams.

“As Foothill was going to grow, the League believed that the district would seek other alternatives,” Arriaga said.

Because Foothill students participate in athletics at their boundary schools, Buena and Ventura are forced into higher divisions in playoffs because of the size of their “potential athlete pools.”

“It is a kind of sore-spot [for Channel League officials],” board member Velma Lomax said. “It wasn’t a surprise to me when this came up because it has been an issue for many years.”


Athletics to be “phased in” over a period of time

The transition between students competing for Ventura High School and Buena High School to competing for Foothill will be phased in over four years.

“A student at Foothill who plays junior varsity basketball at Ventura need not panic because nothing will change for current students,” Arriaga said. “We believe that it is in the best interest of students to stay in the program that they started in.”

Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, incoming freshmen classes would play for Foothill teams. Foothill sophomores, juniors, and seniors in 2014 who have previously played for Ventura or Buena would not have the choice to play for Foothill.

“No one who is here and multi-siting can change their mind and say ‘I want to play for Foothill now,’ ” principal Joe Bova said in an interview prior to the meeting.

Each year, a new class of freshmen will play for Foothill and a class of seniors who played for their boundary school will leave. By the 2017-2018 school year, all Foothill athletes will play on Foothill sports teams.

Phasing in sports one grade at a time while other students play for their boundary school is probably unprecedented in the state of California, Bova said.

The California Interscholastic Federation of the Southern Section (CIF-SS) has already approved the potential “phasing in” process.

Whether a 10th, 11th or 12th grade student who has never played sports for their boundary school could join a Foothill sports team in or after 2014-2015 is still the subject of speculation.

Due to the size of the student body, Foothill would not compete in the same league as Ventura and Buena. Foothill athletes would possibly play in the Tri-County Athletic Association with schools such as Carpinteria, Santa Paula and Fillmore.

“In the beginning, when we have only certain grade levels eligible, we would start in the lower tier of the league and eventually possibly phase into the upper tier of the league, although I think we will always be small compared to some of the larger schools,” Bova said.

Having sports teams would also force some student athletes to choose between their sport and Foothill. Because of space and funding, Bova believes that Foothill might not be able to offer all the sports offered at Ventura and Buena.

He estimates that Foothill will provide about 28 to 30 teams, most of which will be junior varsity and varsity.

Although nothing is for certain, Bova believes that Foothill will not offer football mainly due to size and space.

“[Football] is a highly intensive facility issue and the size of the sport is too much,” Bova said.

The sports offered will depend on popular interest and the number of sport teams that Foothill can manage to fund. This means that some sports may be offered only for girls or boys.


Problems with instituting sports program still to be resolved

Although the “phasing in” process has been approved by CIFSS, there are still many obstacles for building a sports program at Foothill.

One such issue is the availability of facilities for practices and games.

Due to its relatively small 5.8-acre campus, Foothill does not have a pool, gym, football field or track. In physical education classes, students work out in the back parking lot or in Foothill’s activity center, called the “black box.”

“One area we are already exploring is to take one of our middle schools and renovate that for high school sports standards,” Arriaga said. “Rather than thinking about building, we need to think ‘do we have resources already?’”

Arriaga also hopes to utilize community facilities such as those at Ventura College.

Funding is also a main concern, especially in the first years of the programs.

“Right now a lot of the athletic support at Ventura and Buena comes from booster clubs and parent organizations, but initially at Foothill, no parent organizations are going to be there to step forward and provide funding,” Arriaga said.

Other issues include clear communication with parents of freshmen in the 2014-2015 school year, the transition itself, and staffing requirements.


Efforts to be made to maintain Foothill’s academic culture

One of Bova’s main concerns with sports teams is the perception that an athletic program could negatively impact the academic emphasis at Foothill.

In order to maintain the academic culture, Bova wants to institute a college-like tutorial and core workout program.

The details of the program are still hypothetical, but Bova envisions that a 7th and possibly 8th period class will replace 7th period sports dismissal. In this class, athletes would alternate days of conditioning with homework time.

Conditioning days would be tailored to keep athletes fit during the off-season as well as teach practical and healthy workouts in addition to weight training. Thanks to conditioning days, off-season athletes would only need to practice three or four nights a week.

“We want the regular program to be a comprehensive fitness program that will be generalized and then we will have specific programs that are sports specific that our own professional people here will design,” Bova said.

On tutorial homework days, students would utilize the AVID tutorial method and be given designated time to finish homework in a structured manner.

A former coach himself, Bova understands student athletes often have difficulty balancing practice and homework, so he hopes this will remedy the issue.

“We want to provide, like colleges do, that structured time where we take care of a lot of the logistics of the fitness and academics so that students have more balance,” Bova said.

Practices would be held either in the afternoon or possibly later at night depending on facility availability. The team’s practice time would be up to the coach.

“What I foresee is some of our teams practicing at night, and I know with my own kids I would rather them do their core stuff, come home, do homework, maybe eat dinner, and then go to practice rather than just going straight through,” Bova said.

Night-time practices would also reduce the cost of having an athletics program because the school would no longer be responsible for providing transportation.


Special tutorial and core workout program to be created

Should the athletics plan come to fruition, Foothill’s academic focus would not be lost, Bova said. He is relying on multiple factors in addition to the tutorial/core workout program to maintain the solid academic performance of the school.

One of these factors is a plan to hire professional coaches rather than having current Foothill teachers coach sports teams. He hopes that this will help distinguish the academic and athletic environments of the school.

“We want to hire really professional coaches from the community who are experts in their fields,” Bova said. “We don’t want to ask teachers to coach who don’t have a background in that. We want to have our teachers teach and our coaches coach.”

Bova said he does not want to have sports rallies because he fears they could take away from the central academic theme.

“A lot of the time, schools don’t highlight or recognize academics at the same level they do as athletics. I can see us, at lunch time, bringing our athletes up before a big game and saying ‘Hey, let’s go,’ but I think there will be equal parts recognizing academics, which we already do quite a bit,” Bova said.

Bova believes his tutorial and core workout program will create more support and expand the opportunities of student athletes.

“My hope is that if this happens we are able to allow kids to play a larger variety of sports,” Bova said. “I think if we set up this core program where there is time and support for students that a student might come here who was maybe going to play one sport at a big high school might find that they can do more than that here.”

Arriaga also hopes that an athletic program at Foothill will provide more opportunities for students.

“Ventura Unified is proposing not to take away but add opportunities at Foothill,” she said. “This will open more positions for students to participate in athletics so that the students who couldn’t make varsity basketball at Buena High School may be able to make the varsity basketball team at Foothill High School.”

Although the board voted to start organizing the program, there is still a chance that the plan could unravel due to unforeseen obstacles such as inadequate funding.

“If we say we are going to move forward, that doesn’t mean the decision will be definite because we don’t have every bit of information right now,” Lomax said.

Biology teacher Ryan Duston attended the session. Prior to the meeting he said he believes that sports at Foothill would be a positive change.

“There are a lot of things that you can’t teach students out of textbooks, but that they should still be learning. How to work in a team, social skills, self-confidence, I think sports lend themselves to that,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Text was changed at 8:09 a.m. to reflect more clearly that practices will be held both in the afternoon and evening, depending on facility availability, and to show that the school board did not officially vote on the issue but rather unanimously consented to moving forward with plans.

Staff member Megan Kearney contributed to the reporting of this article.

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BREAKING NEWS: School board approves start of new era of Foothill athletics; sports teams to start in 2014