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Wasson winter sports embark on possible last run as district mulls future
Sports have always served as the ultimate haven, a therapeutic release from the woes of the real world. Just for a few hours, athletes and spectators can get lost in the frenzy of a goal-mouth scramble, a scintillating fourth-quarter rally or a personal achievement that can elevate an entire team.
So when the Wasson basketball, wrestling and girls’ swimming and diving teams compete in their respective events over the next month, more than wins and losses will be on their minds. With a Feb. 6 date looming to learn of the school’s fate, these athletic contests could be the last for all winter sports at the school, which opened in 1959.
On Wednesday, District 11 recommended that Wasson High School and two elementary schools should be closed.
Inside the Wasson gym, banners celebrate state championships in eight sports. It’s not much of a haven when today’s student-athletes have to wonder if they’ll even have the chance to add to such a legendary history.
“The toughest part is trying to stay focused,” first-year girls’ basketball coach Jerry Austin said. “It’s in the back of the kids’ minds, and it makes it hard for us to function. It’s hard for a team when they’re not sure what’s going to happen. It’s another obstacle.”
Four weeks from Wednesday in the District 11 boardroom, Wasson High School and several other schools will learn their fate after the district’s Optimization of Utilization presentation.
Wasson, which narrowly escaped closure four years ago due to languishing enrollment, faces closure again. Scenarios to repurpose the school or convert it into a middle school are among many options being considered. Or, the school could remain open as is, resolving the high school detached boundaries issue, or operate as a sixth- through 12th-grade school by absorbing nearby Galileo School of Math and Science.
“Whatever happens, happens,” said fifth-year wrestling coach Brian Eckrich, who also works as a school security officer. “Like my guys said, 'We’re going to ride it until the wheels fall off.'”
Eckrich should know. He’s been there before. In a twist of irony, Eckrich worked security at East Middle School, which was shuttered in 2007 and later reopened as Galileo, which could become a part of Wasson.
“You don’t get used to that feeling, and it’s not easy,” Eckrich said. “But I try not to stress about it. The more I stress, I’m still not going to fix it.”
Despite its tenuous future, the school’s opening at football coach has generated interest for a folder of resumes – one that might never be tapped.
“I’ve gotten probably eight or nine applicants already,” Welch said. “Right now, I’m pleased with the pool of applicants I’ve gotten. But right now, we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen.”
Welch said the football program is going in a “different direction” after a two-year stint by Jeff Palmer, whose Thunderbirds went 4-16. Palmer continues to teach business at the school.
Should the school remain open for the 2013-14 season, the incoming football coach will be Wasson’s third since 2010.
More pressing than a football coach is the need for a girls' tennis coach. The spring season opens practice Feb. 25, and the Thunderbirds have yet to make a hire for the position.
All Wasson can do, to borrow from the sports cliché, is take it one day at a time. Quite simply, its days might be numbered as the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams begin Metro League play this week and the wrestling and girls’ swimming teams begin the second halves of their seasons.
“We’re just going to push forward and go about business as normal,” Wasson athletic director Jared Welch said. “We’re just plugging on. I have a good feeling about what we’re doing at Wasson.”
Devra Ashby, the District 11 public information officer, discouraged any of Wasson’s student-athletes from commenting on this story.
“I know there’s anxiety at the school, and I’d hate for anything to reflect poorly on any students or staff there," Ashby said. "Obviously, no one knows what’s going to happen.”