Mike Longenberger went to the mat Monday for the families of the Boiling Springs Wrestling Club.
Longenberger, the organization’s president, told the South Middleton School Board a facility use policy revision made in June would increase the fee for facility use beyond the club’s ability to maintain programs for the upcoming season.
The board asked administrators to meet with club leaders and other youth sports advocates to review the impact the revision may have and to work out a possible solution.
Whatever happens needs to be done quickly. Club leaders are scheduled to meet with league representatives in late October to discuss whether Boiling Springs could host wrestling tournaments.
Athletic Director Karl Heimbach was tasked by the board last year to review the district’s old facility use policy. Under that policy, certain groups were exempt from having to pay an hourly fee for the use of district facilities.
Under the old policy, it was hard to determine where some groups fit into four levels of classification, Heimbach said Tuesday. The revision made in June reduced the number of classifications from four levels to two.
Unde Group 1, school district athletic teams, school clubs, boosters clubs and PTOs are not charged an hourly fee but may be subject to fees for custodial, security and audio-visual services. This Group 1 classification also applies to some programs organized through the South Middleton Township recreation department.
Anything under Group 2 is charged an hourly fee in addition to the fees for custodial, security and audio-visual services. With that revision, some groups may end up paying more or paying for something they didn’t have to pay before, Heimbach said.
For the Boiling Springs Wrestling Club, the higher usage fee may make it cost-prohibitive for the membership to offer programs to youth wrestlers.
“Everything is going to be reevaluated again,” Heimbach said of the board’s directive on Monday. Until then, the wrestling club will have to grapple with the unknown.
“We are facing a $12,000 annual fee,” Longenberger said Monday. “We currently have $9,500 in the bank. We’ve only had one fundraiser so far. We are starting the season $4,000 in the hole.
“To charge a youth sport that much annually is not just lunacy,” he said. “It’s irresponsible and downright hateful.”
Though the board approved the policy revision in June, Longenberger said he only learned of the change in September. By then, the club had already set its registration fee for the season.
Had the club been notified of the change, he said an adjustment could have been made to what it charges families to give the club some flexibility to offset the increased costs.
“One of my concerns is the lack of communication to the youth organizations,” Longenberger said. “None of us were aware that this was going to happen before the board voted. Now we are looking at canceling some home events and even cutting back on practices.”
Board member Stacey Knavel apologized and said the district could have done more to communicate the policy revision using last year’s list of contact information.
Coaches and parents formed the Boiling Springs Wrestling Club 49 years ago to foster the development of youth wrestling. Each season, volunteers donate 90 minutes each Tuesday and Thursday to work with children in two age groups, kindergarten through third grade and fourth grade through sixth grade.
“Many of the wrestlers that you see on the high school team today went through our program,” Longenberger said. “We are a true feeder to the Boiling Springs High School team.”
In the past five years, the club has donated about $17,000 in competition mats and other equipment to the high school, he said. “That is being used not just by the wrestling team but by life skills, cheerleaders and phys-ed classes,” Longenberger said. Plans to purchase an $8,000 mat this season are in jeopardy due to the change in club classification and increased user fees.
The club may also have to scale back the annual end-of-season celebration where youth wrestlers are recognized for their accomplishments, Longenberger said. As an alternative, he suggested the board agree to a flat seasonal fee of $1,500 for club practices and $600 for home events plus security and custodial costs.
Local resident Liz Knouse suggested the board rescind the current policy immediately because “It’s not ready for prime time.” In response, board president Michael Berk said he would rather the administration meet with youth sports advocates to work out a solution instead of taking an abrupt vote.
Board solicitor Dave Jones said he has experience working with other school districts that credit the value of donated equipment as a discount on user fees, and he suggested South Middleton look at that as an option.
Local resident Jim Koontz, a PIAA official for wrestling and facilities director for the Cumberland Valley School District, recommended South Middleton School Board revise its policy immediately.
“There are other ways and other avenues to achieve what you are trying to achieve here,” Koontz said. He said the fees being charged by South Middleton are just too high for some groups to afford.
Board member Jonathan Still felt blindsided by the concerns aired by the wrestling club. He said there were meetings to discuss the policy change before a vote was taken.
Still said part of the job of a board member is to figure out how to fund a school district and pay for the upkeep of facilities over a number of years.
“You don’t always realize the full effect until something comes up,” Still said of the situation with the wrestling club. “Whenever you make a change, it’s difficult to know every little detail on how the second order and third order effects are going to happen down the road.”