The Derry Area Midget Football program has played games at Derry Stadium for years. Individuals with the longstanding youth organization, however, are concerned that poor field conditions may force them to play the remainder of this year’s home schedule somewhere else.
At Thursday’s regular Derry Area School Board meeting, parents with the midget football program said one game on its schedule was moved to Uniontown and they’re not sure whether three remaining home games — one a homecoming celebration and another a Senior Night to honor players set to graduate from the program — will be played at Derry Stadium.
Derry Area officials said the status of the midget football organization’s home games is in question following this summer’s heavy rains and excessive Poa Annua on the field. Poa Annua, or annual bluegrass, is one of the most common grassy weeds in the United States. It usually dies off in the summer when the weather gets hot, leaving behind bare spots.
District director of buildings and grounds Gene Stofko said school workers “have different control methods to treat for that, but unfortunately, there is no quick and easy fix. We’ve been dealing with this for 12 to 15 years and this year, weather conditions have made it even worse.”
Athletic director Brett Miller said workers regularly fertilize and seed Derry Stadium’s grass surface. They try to seed the field at least four times per year, but this year plan on seeding it “almost after every game.”
Miller said he wasn’t sure if anything has been done to the field in terms of drainage or irrigation since it was first installed in 1971.
“The bluegrass is one of those things that’s uncontrollable,” Stofko said. “You almost have to remove it to get rid of it. And we’re not alone — we’re not the only school district dealing with this.”
Each year, Miller said officials check the field up to twice a week starting in early July and he said the field was in “nice condition” around that time this summer. Later in the month, however, workers noticed some browning in the end zone near the grandstand side and eventually the browning began to spread.
Miller said district officials met this week with Monroeville-based Advanced Turf Solutions to discuss the issue.
“When talking to (Advanced Turf Solutions), when (Greater) Latrobe put their sod in, they had the same problem in one corner of their end zone,” he said. “And it got so bad, the Steelers took over their spraying schedule because the school district couldn’t control it.”
“We have to evaluate the usage of the field, whether we want to re-sod the field or whether we put artificial turf down in the future,” Miller added. “We’ve started that process.”
Derry Township Supervisors Chairman Vince DeCario, who attended Thursday’s meeting, suggested that the district look into the possibility of adding artificial turf. Miller also said re-sodding the field is a possibility.
School board president David Krinock said any field upgrades would be paid through the district’s capital project fund.
Based on athletic department calculations, Krinock said nearly 60 school-sanctioned sporting events were held at Derry Stadium last school year. That total does not include games that were canceled because of weather conditions or other reasons, he said.
“The only teams that use that field when it’s in bad condition are school teams,” he said. “We have to preserve the field as best as we can.”
“(The midget program) always played on the high school field — I played on the high school field,” Krinock added. “We’re glad the midget organization uses it and we want them to use it, but right now they can’t.”
Krinock said the midget program typically plays its games on the weekend. During weekdays during the school year, the field is heavily used by Derry Area’s varsity, junior varsity and middle school football and soccer teams.
“The field needs looked at and we know that,” Krinock said, adding that the board planned to further discuss the matter following Thursday’s meeting.
Parent Dan Horwat said Derry’s midget program — which boasts three teams in separate age groups — is down 36 players from last season. Several of the parents at Thursday’s meeting said the further deterioration of the midget program will eventually impact the varsity squad, which is coming off a magical 11-2 season that included an appearance in the WPIAL Class 3A title game.
“Those kids go to school here, they’re supposed to play here on Friday nights when they get to high school,” Horwat told the board. “... (The midget program) has been playing on that field for how many years? Why all of a sudden do we have to play on the practice field or not be allowed to play on it at all?”
Derry’s midget program recently joined the Washington/Greene Youth Football League, which according to its website, has 32 member organizations and 96 teams in five southwestern Pennsylvania counties. Parents said Derry partly joined the league to play possible future varsity opponents such as Elizabeth Forward, Mount Pleasant, Uniontown and Yough, all of which currently compete against the Trojans in the Class 3A Big East Conference.
To his understanding, Miller said the agreement Derry’s midget program entered into as part of joining the new league stated teams must play in a gated facility.
“I don’t think anybody up here doesn’t want midget football to play on the field,” school board member Nathan Doherty said. “We have to work together to find the fix. I would hope Brett and his department are open to other solutions, but we have to be open to moving our home games too. It has to go both ways.”
In other business Thursday, Derry Area Administrative Assistant for Business Affairs Joe Koluder said the district is looking to refinance bond issues later this year, assuming interest rates remain favorable.
Koluder said the district’s last debt service payment is slated for fall 2027.
Tim Frenz of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC told the board that the bond issues — from 2012 and 2013, respectively — were refinanced twice previously.
Frenz said the 2012 bond issue has about $8.7 million left outstanding and the 2013 bond issue has about $9 million left outstanding. The bond issues date back roughly a decade and were done for upgrades to Grandview Elementary School’s athletic facilities and various district capital projects, he added.
The bond refinancing should result in about $400,000 in savings for the district, which must be used for capital projects, Frenz said.
The school board is likely to vote on the matter at next month’s meeting.
In a related motion, the board voted to appoint and authorize Lynch and Lynch as the district’s bond counsel and Janney Montgomery Scott as its bond underwriting firm.
Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting:
- Derry Area’s annual Salute Our Heroes program will be held starting at 6:40 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, before the Trojans’ home football game against Mount Pleasant Area. The event will honor area veterans, fire companies, police departments and first responders. The Derry Area Marching Band will also perform at the event;
- The board heard from a high school freshman about suggested changes to the district’s policy for memorialization of students that have passed away;
- A parent mentioned issues with the district’s eighth-grade reading list related to language and subject matter. Superintendent Eric Curry said the reading list was approved by the district’s ELA task force, and he added that the district’s directors of secondary and elementary education, Greg Ferencak and Kristine Higgs, will work with the task force to vet the reading list;
- In his superintendent’s report, Curry said 683 students and families attended this year’s Back to School Night and Kindergarten orientation at Grandview;
- The board heard a presentation about the district’s new entrepreneurship class.
In other business, the school board approved:
- Resignation of Timothy Burchett, effective at the end of the 2018-19 school year;
- Resignation of Loretta Sanner as a middle school cafeteria aide, effective July 29;
- Resignation of Ken Ewing as assistant marching band instructor and jazz/pep band director, effective at the end of the 2018-19 school year;
- Resignation of Haley Thomas as a PCA, effective at the end of the 2018-19 school year;
- Resignation of Ashley Davis as a Pre-K Counts paraprofessional, effective Sept. 6;
- Request of Kristen Anderson for a one-year child bearing leave and 12-week family medical leave, effective Dec. 20, of date of disability as determined by her physician;
- Request of Jessica Fordyce for a one-year child bearing leave and 12-week family medical leave, effective Jan. 18, or date of disability as determined by her physician;
- Intermittent family medical leave for David McCleary, effective Aug. 26;
- Family medical leave for Denise Tarr, effective Aug. 23;
- To rescind the motion from the Aug. 1 meeting to employ Brandon Pease as the marching band percussion instructor for the 2019-20 school year;
- Lucy Bujdos, Melinda Monnich, Amanda Thomas and Tammy Manual as additions to the substitute employee lists;
- Louise Brindle, Alison Camp, Anna Clark, Candace Davis, Kara Delaney White, Missy DeNinno, Toni Drayer, Rachel Duff, Barb Fertal, Crystal Gunter, Amanda Hauser, Kathleen Kadlec, Mary Lawson, Rachael Marinchak, Roxanne Mowry, Nancy O’Hara, Carrie Oshie, Kimberly Pallottini, Brittanie Perla, Audrey Pomponio, Dawn Pynos, Alisha Schall, Christie Sever, Patti Sias, Duane Slade, Muriel Slade, Judith Stemple, Ronald Stemple, Janet Volpe, Cheryl Washinko and Linda Werner as additional PALS for the 2019-20 school year;
- Employ Justine Frayfolt as a server in the middle school cafeteria for five hours per day at a rate of $8 per hour;
- Employ Shirley Krinock as a cashier at Grandview Elementary for 2.75 hours per day at a rate of $8 per hour;
- Employ Matthew Roble as the jazz/pep band director for the 2019-20 school year at a salary set by the negotiated point system;
- Employ Deborah Gray as the program for the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant for the 2019-20 school year at a salary set and paid for with 21st Century grant funds;
- Change the status of John Yakopovich to outdoor lead custodian at a rate of $22.03 per hour, effective Sept. 9;
- Change the status of Tim Pallottini to eight-hour outdoor custodian at a rate of $21.69, effective Sept. 9;
- Employ Karen Semelsberger as a half-time aide in the middle school at a rate of $15.42 per hour;
- Employ Coletta Ballash as a Teaching Tiny Trojans instructor at a rate of $28 per hour;
- Hire Karen Kerin and Robyn Schall as percussion co-instructors for the marching band during the 2019-20 school year at a salary of $1,000, to be split equally;
- Request of Lisa Tatone to attend the PDE Integrated Learning-The School to Career Connection Conference in State College from Nov. 6-8 at an approximate cost of $565;
- Resignation of Daniel Sinwell as assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach;
- Employ Lucy Bujdos as assistant varsity girls’ coach for the 2019-20 season at a salary set by the negotiated point system;
- Athletic event staff and rates for the 2019-20 school year;
- Ryan Polinsky and Gary Tom (football), Heather Ramsey (tennis), BJ Mikeska (wrestling) and Shawn Spencer (girls volleyball) as volunteer coaches for the 2019-20 school year;
- To request 2017 Pennsylvania personal income tax records from the state department of revenue for verification of local wage tax by Berkheimer;
- A five-year mailing machine lease with Mailfinance;
- Special tuition reimbursement agreement for the Bearcat B.E.S.T. program with St. Vincent College for the 2019-20 school year;
- Letter of agreement with Outside In School of Experimental Education for the 2019-20 school year;
- Tuition agreement with New Story Schools for the 2019-20 school year;
- Agreements with the Westmoreland County Juvenile Probation Department for the period of Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020;
- National College & Career Pathways survey;
- Budget transfers;
- Field trips.