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Fewer HS sports championships weighed

David Ba and Chris Brady celebrate their victory

David Ba and Chris Brady celebrate their victory in the state Class A public school boys basketball championship -- the first state title in Harborfields history. (March 18, 2012) Credit: Pat Orr

Suffolk County's top high school sports official has introduced the idea of eliminating or curtailing state championships because of the high cost of participation.

"We love the state championships, but financially it's a burden," Section XI executive director Ed Cinelli said. "That's the reason we want to discuss this. For the 2011-12 school year, there is not a single state championship on Long Island. We're traveling for everything. There's a huge cost to that. We'd like to bring some events down here."

School districts, which help support Sections VIII and XI -- the governing bodies for sports in Nassau and Suffolk respectively -- through dues, are under tremendous financial pressure, struggling with the fallout from reduced state aid, staff layoffs, escalating pension costs and staying within the mandated 2 percent cap on property tax increases.

Cinelli said it cost Section XI more than $200,000 in travel expenses for the 2010-11 school year to send Suffolk teams or individual athletes to state championships. The New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association reimburses each of the state's 11 sections for some transportation costs for state tournaments, but not for all travel costs.

Section XI generates revenue to offset travel expenses in three ways: dues and service charges, gate receipts from championships, and sponsorships.

"Every time we travel, we have to take a charter [coach], and that's really expensive," Cinelli said. "You can't put kids on a school bus for a trip to Syracuse."

State high school athletic association executive director Nina Van Erk said she understands Section XI's concerns, but added, "I would be greatly surprised if our executive committee took this action" to curtail state tournaments.

Van Erk acknowledged Suffolk's "burden of travel" and said that while the state bylaws call for "centralized" state championship sites when possible, the possibility of changing those requirements exists.

Cinelli first made the formal request at the January state athletic association executive meeting. He asked the representatives from the other 10 sections around the state to gauge the level of support for a possible two-year moratorium (beginning with the 2013-14 school year) on state championships or consider a reduction in the number of state championship events.

The proposal cited Suffolk's geographic location, rising travel expenses and a desire to see championship events rotate to Long Island or downstate locales to ease the travel burden.

For any changes to be made at the state level, there must be a formal motion that is seconded, followed by a simple majority vote by 66 members of the state association's central and executive committees.

Van Erk and Cinelli both stressed that the possible elimination or reduction of state championships is strictly at the discussion level.

"Section XI is requesting feedback from other sections," Van Erk said, "and we're all looking at ways to reduce costs for member sections and member schools." Most state tournaments are held at centrally located venues near Albany, Syracuse, Ithaca and Rochester, Van Erk said.

The only state championship regularly scheduled on Long Island is boys lacrosse, every other year. Boys cross country is also on a rotation. Girls gymnastics' championship was held at Cold Spring Harbor in 2010, and Section VIII gymnastics coordinator and Bethpage High School gymnastics coach Kim Rhatigan says Nassau has a bid in to host in 2013.

Cinelli said the girls lacrosse tournament would be a perfect fit for Long Island.

"We would love to have girls lacrosse here. We're a hotbed, just like the boys. We're constantly sending three teams up to Cortland."

Section VIII, which also pays for Nassau's school teams' state travel expenses, endorses the current system.

"This discussion has come up the past couple of years at state meetings," said Pat Pizzarelli, a Section VIII official, past state high school athletic association president and current athletic director at Lawrence High School. "We've had some discussions in Nassau. But we're not ready to take the opportunity to participate in state championships away from our schools yet. These are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But could it change? Yes, in a few months we might be thinking differently."

The thought that state tournaments might be in jeopardy drew mixed response from Long Island coaches.

"It would be an awful nightmare," said Rhatigan. "But there is definitely a spotlight on saving money."

Harborfields High School's boys team is among four Long Island teams that traveled to state basketball championship tournaments this weekend.

"I love going to Glens Falls, but it's always upstate," said coach Chris Agostino, whose team won the state Class A title Sunday. "It costs so much more money for [Suffolk] schools to travel than it costs others. Those upstate guys have to recognize the cost of New York State championships for Long Island schools. Let's rotate it. Let's alternate it."

Shannon McEntee, girls soccer coach at Rockville Centre's South Side High School, which has won 16 state titles, said, "I understand the financial part, but there are other options." She said the quest for a state title is a huge motivational tool. "That's what inspires us during the season."

With Laura Albanese, James Crepea and Sandra Peddie

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