The Riverhead Central School District has restored its spring sports programs after the district was forced to cut all sports before the school year because of a budget shortfall.
Riverhead is operating on a "contingency" budget after residents twice voted down the district's proposal calling for a spending increase of 1.87% and a tax hike of 2.21%. Cutting sports saved the district $960,000.
"We thought it was a fair budget," said Christopher J. Dorr, who serves on the Board of Education. "But enough didn’t vote for it — for whatever reason. As a result we had to make a lot of hard choices, including cutting sports . . . It was a call I don’t think anyone wanted to make."
At the Board of Education meeting in December, the district said the contingency budget overestimated some insurance costs. The board voted unanimously to use some of the money to restore the spring sports season.
"There was a lot of disappointment when athletics were cut and it’s great to see that there is enthusiasm now," said Brian Sacks, director of health, physical education and athletics for the Riverhead Central School District. "A chance to be together and participate this spring is something to get excited about."
The decision brings back the varsity, junior varsity and middle school spring sports, which include baseball, softball, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls track, boys tennis and girls golf. According to Sacks, funding will cost between $300,000 and $350,000.
C.J. Dorr, captain of the Blue Waves' boys lacrosse team and the son of Christopher J. Dorr, attended the meeting where sports was reinstated, and said, "I was screaming in my car all the way home."
Section XI executive director Tom Combs said spring schedules were being re-worked by officials to include Riverhead, one of the 10 biggest schools in Suffolk with approximately 1,700 students.
Section XI announced in August that it was postponing all sports until Jan. 4 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lower- and moderate-risk winter sports have resumed. The county's plan is to play the fall sports in March and April and then have the spring sports play in May and June.
"We all understood how serious COVID was, but we knew we weren’t going to even get a chance to play [because of the cuts]," said Madison Stromski, a senior on the track team. "We’d already lost last spring [to the pandemic] and now we were going to miss another. Mattituck is so close and it was hard to accept that they had the funding for sports and that they were going to play, but we weren’t."
There were efforts to raise funds in Riverhead to bring back programs but none gained traction.
"It shocked everyone," junior girls lacrosse midfielder Ava Sumwalt said. "You look forward to a sports season, the chance to be with your teammates and accomplish something."
Athletes were thrilled to hear that the spring sports were saved.
"Phones were blowing up as the word spread through text and Snapchat," Sumwalt said. "In a school year that’s been really hard on people, we finally got some good news."
Gabe Burns, who started running track for the first time as a freshman, said the thought of missing out on sports in his senior season was having a big impact on him.
"I got to make a lot of friends at other schools from going to meets," he said. "When sports got cut, I thought it was over for me. We already lost the outdoor season last year and now I was going to miss my senior season. I got discouraged and didn’t even run for a while after that decision. But I eventually started working out again and now I have something to strive [toward]."