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School supports lacrosse, budgeters don't

December 23, 2009
Budget Committee member's votes ended in a 5-5 tie last Thursday night in response to the a petitioned warrant article asking the town to help aid the Gilford Lacrosse Club.

School Board members stood in full favor of supporting the lacrosse program and utilizing extra funds, but Budget Committee Chair Dick Hickok voted last on a pending 5-4 vote, and the petition did not receive the full support the School Board was hoping for.

Prior to voting, Gilford Lacrosse Club President Dan Kallmerten presented the history of the club to the Budget Committee, as well as the benefits an additional sport boost may provide for Gilford students. Kallmerten and Dave Pinkham, the school athletic director, came in front of the committee with a $17,603 budget.

"We feel it is time to come forward. We are here to ask for your support," said Kallmerten.

The fee per player is about $130 to $150, and for equipment, the cost shoots up to $350 per player. He said that lacrosse is a contact sport for males especially, and that the equipment is subject to breaking here and there, and that the padding for players conforms to the body for optimal safety needs.

"The equipment is very individualized and custom fitted. It is frowned upon on handing down equipment," said Kallmerten.

Kallmerten explained that the club started up in 2003 when his son ended his youth lacrosse career and realized there were no other opportunities out there. The club team had a hard time playing school teams, said Kallmerten, since there are certain regulations, but eventually his team worked their way up to the varsity level.

Player numbers continued to increase and in 2007, he started up a girl's team. He said he ran into some of the same problems, but the turnout for the girl's team was impressive, with 38 girls. The team eventually made it to the varsity level as well, said Kallmerten.

He said that about one-third of students who play school sports participate in lacrosse. Although the club attempts to provide scholarships to underprivileged players, Kallmerten said the equipment is getting too expensive to provide such opportunities anymore. The club also receives donations, but the program cannot rely on these alone.

"We've had problems with fundraising, and compete with other organizations and teams. We are moving forward and look to expand the program as a club and with summer and winter programs," said Kallmerten. "More importantly, it is an expensive sport, and there is a strong emphasis on safety."

Selectman and Budget Committee member John O'Brien asked if the program is supported by the students.

Kallmerten said that lacrosse is not as popular as football, although he sees its popularity rapidly increasing.

"It is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. It used to be a Northeast sport, but it spread right through the country at a college level. We had a home playoff game with some snow, and it was still well attended," said Kallmerten.

Pinkham added that lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in New Hampshire, and that it has "exploded" in the Lakes Region. He said that Gilford can expect about 70 kids, and that the numbers increase on a yearly basis. Pinkham explained that the students have provided the equipment in the past.

"I support the program whole-heartedly. It is a wonderful sport, and I support what it has done for the district," said Pinkham. "The girls cannot wait to jump to the varsity level. They are pretty excited about it."

He said they can expect to see some fall sports players participate as well and 10 to 15 students who have never played a sport for Gilford before. He anticipates about 205 to 230 players overall for spring sports, which is almost half of the school.

"We are ahead of other districts as far as participation. We want kids involved academically, and their performance is much higher (when involved in sports)," said Pinkham.

Pinkham assured the committee that most of the same coaches are already in place, and that they also stress the importance of academic excellence to their players.

Committee member Mark Corry asked about donations and funding the club may already be receiving.

Pinkham said that the equipment costs two-thirds more than the transportation and coaches, and the club intends to donate all their equipment, jerseys, nets, and game goals to the school.

Corry also wondered why the club needs the entire $17,603 covered, and Pinkham explained that this money would be split among the four teams.

Committee member Skip Murphy asked what would happen if the club's extra funds and donations happened to dry up. Kallmerten said that the club would not be able to give out scholarships or aid to players, but that they would attempt to get creative with fundraising. He added that the club has made $1,500 to $2,000 off of some events.

After listening to other comments, Hickok still felt torn over where his vote would lie, since he felt that $17,000 was a lot to ask for this year.

"I don't know what the right answer is. There is pressure not to disappoint the kids involved," said Hickok. "I think the school has done extremely well, although they have faced a couple hurdles. These things come along and they are going to be difficult."

Committee member and School Board Chair Margo Weeks said she supported the program.

"There has been a proven interest. This has proved to be a sustainable program for over seven years," said Weeks.

She said she agreed with Kallmerten's statement, that kids need to remain active, and that sports encourage them to keep up their grades. She said the only downside of supporting the program was the financial aspect.

Committee member Sue Greene said she was all for athletics, but she was concerned with balance in the budget and the fundraising aspect, since the club hopes to pay the difference with donations and fundraisers. She said this is also a time to think of the taxpayers as well.

After much discussion and a late entrance by committee member Terry Stewart, the committee decided to allow him to vote as well since he is an elected official. The vote resulted in 5-4, before Hickok's deciding vote, which created the tie.

Both the School Board and the Budget Committee's recommendations will appear on the March ballot.

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