UTICA — Pads are popping and footballs are flying at Utica High School, as the football team undergoes conditioning for the 2011 season.
That is, if there is a 2011 season.
There is still no decision on whether North Fork school district athletics has been saved. No announcement is expected until Monday at the earliest. In the meantime, coaches and players are carrying on with business as usual.
“They are fully confident that we are full steam ahead,” said Utica head football coach Randy Felumlee. “And I was told by the leaders of (the boosters) to coach the team and let them take care of the other matters. That’s the approach I’ve taken.”
You would expect some nerves on the practice field as the team ponders the idea of not being able to play. However, if there was any kind of cloud hovering overhead, no one took notice.
“To be honest, I haven’t sat around and worried about it,” said Felumlee. “I’ve worried about all the things I’m supposed to worry about.”
Among the things Felumlee is worried about: The number of players that turn out, as well as their physical condition.
“This two-week period is just to get them in shape,” said Felumlee. “We have quite a few new kids who haven’t played before. The varsity players that have been there before know that they have to stay in shape. Most kids have already been doing conditioning. The ones who haven’t are going to be behind.”
When the North Fork levy failed in May, the school board decided that $350,000 had to be raised by Aug. 1 in order to save the athletic program. That put everything in limbo.
“All I wanted was an answer,” said Felumlee. “Would we play or not? Tell me yes or no. Let’s not wishy-wash.”
Since then, the board has backed off a bit, and allowed boosters to come up the sum in three payments. The first payment asked for will be “around $160,000,” according to boosters.
That’s where the North Fork Children’s Foundation stepped in. Founded this summer, the local group has been raising the money necessary for extra-curricular activities to continue in Utica. The biggest money-maker so far has been the silent auction and reverse raffle, set to take place on Sunday.
“We’re hoping for a big turnout,” said Gary Stadley, one of the Foundation’s organizers. “We have enough for the prizes. I think we have time to sell more tickets.”
The group hoped to sell 1,000 tickets at $400 apiece. So far, only about 250 have been sold. But, according to Stradley, that may be enough to put them over the top — for now.
“I’m confident that we’ll have all the money,” said Stradley. “We’ll keep raising money throughout the school year. Then, if we can pass the next levy, we can keep raising money for the kids.”
Passing a levy doesn’t mean the group doesn’t have any further purpose. The group can continue to raise money for improvements.
“We have a pretty crummy practice field,” said Felumlee. “We’ve had two significant ankle injuries from the field already. That’s why we don’t run sprints there anymore. It’s a shame it’s that way.”
As for the football players, they fully expect to be back on the field when the first mandatory practice takes place on Monday.
“Any time a kid comes to talk to me, I tell them what the folks at the Foundation told me,” said Felumlee. “You prepare for the season and do what you’re supposed to be doing.
“I can’t see us coming this far and then canceling everything now,” Felumlee continued. “We’d not only be hurting ourselves, but a lot of other schools as well. I don’t know that failure is an option.”