Community Members Successful in Their Pleas With Keystone School Board to Strike Down Co-Op Proposal

| November 21, 2023

KNOX, Pa. (EYT) – In a roll call vote of the Keystone School District Board of Education, board members denied the proposal for an athletic co-op with Union and Allegheny-Clarion Valley School Districts.

The board voted on football and baseball cooperative agreements. The vote on varsity football received two yay votes. The nays tallied six votes. Junior high football received eight nays.

The vote on varsity baseball was tied, 4-4. Junior high baseball received 0 yay votes.

“I feel this has been done unethically,” said board member Stacey Thompson. “It has not been discussed by the board as a whole at any point in time and hasn’t been discussed by any of us (until tonight.)”

Thompson’s comments were just a small portion of the many people who spoke out against the agreement on Monday evening.

The meeting was less than a few minutes old before six community members lined up to speak before the board.

Among the speakers were girls’ soccer coach Eric Mount, football volunteer Chuck Weaver, PennWest Clarion professor Jim Lyle, Abigail Simcheck, Kelly Hartzell, and Jill Henry.

“I would like to reiterate my feelings toward the potential co-op were not completely against the idea, but that I was against the idea of this particular agreement,” Mount said. “The lack of interest from the other potential member schools was my biggest hurdle, as the agreement did not provide much benefit for our student athletes.”

Eric Mount

Eric Mount

Weaver, who said he has been involved in the football program for decades, surprised many in attendance when he voiced his support for the agreement.

“I have given this co-op thing a lot of thought, and I don’t like it—but there are a lot of things in life that I don’t like that I have learned to accept because it’s the right thing to do,” Weaver said. “However important Keystone football is to me, and after thinking about this, I have discovered something that means more. And, that is the opportunity for young people to have a chance to play.”

Chuck Weaver

Chuck Weaver

Lyle, who has spent many years teaching debate in Clarion County, told the board he was concerned with “the process of deliberation that has been witnessed over the last 35 days.”

“It’s only been 20 days since that meeting even took place to get us to this point where we’re now voting on these proposals,” Lyle exclaimed. “The fact that 22 programs were up for consideration, and really 23 if you look at what was presented at the A-C Valley meeting because competitive cheer was on that list.  That’s a lot. That’s nine sports, 11 senior high programs, 11 junior high programs, and that’s 20 days to decide the fate of 22 proposals.”

Lyle then noted that since 2013, Clarion County has been down 716 students, based on state data. Keystone is 255 of that 716 drop.

Jim Lyle

Jim Lyle

“Clearly, there’s an issue,” he said.

Community speakers continued to lecture the board for over 45 minutes. One speaker surpassed 12 minutes in her speech before board president John Slagle sternly interrupted and advised she had one more minute to speak.

The paper handout available to all at the meeting indicated each speaker would be limited to five minutes.

Abigail Simcheck

Abigail Simcheck

Kelly Hartzell

Kelly Hartzell

Jill Henry

Jill Henry

It was 7:46 p.m. by the time the board was able to proceed with their meeting, at which time Superintendent Michael Hall went through unrelated agenda items.

Around 8:05 p.m., the board finally reached the portion of the meeting to discuss and vote on the potential athletic co-op.

Council members were eager to share their concerns.

Superintendent Hall informed the board that one of the prospective superintendents in the co-op agreement was “not willing” to slow discussions and opted to not make a decision before the deadline.

“That speaks volumes to the real truth that they’re not willing to slow down and let everybody feel comfortable,” said board member Dwayne Van Tassel, who was participating in his final board meeting after not seeking reelection.

Greg Barrett, another outgoing board member, agreed.

“That just speaks volumes to me to what’s important to some people out there, and that’s one reason why I am not supporting the co-op,” Barrett said. “I understand the numbers, and where things are going, but the way this was rushed…”

Van Tassel interrupted, “If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t go there fast.”

Soon, Thompson chimed in as well.

“Not all of us could attend the athletic council meeting. So, where’s my presentation?” she said. “I didn’t get any phone calls or videos. Where’s our presentation tonight? Everybody else got presentations, phone calls, videos on social media, and all this talk was out there, but where’s my presentation? And, you want me to make a vote?”

Board member Kenneth Swartfager, who is typically reserved at the meetings, took time to share what he has heard from students.

“(The students) have told me if we want to fix the problem, fix the coaching,” he said, prompting applause from those in attendance.

When it came to a vote, the only board members to vote yay for the varsity football co-op were Jason Say and Randall (Buck) Weaver.

For the varsity baseball vote, which ended in a 4-4 tie, board members voting for the co-op were Say, Slagle, Weaver, and James Beary.

When a vote ends in a tie, the motion is defeated.

IMG_3719 2 (1)


Athletic Council Public Meeting on November 13, 2023

The athletic council held their public meeting on Monday, November 13, which came in response to a community meeting that was held on Wednesday, November 1, in conjunction with the administrative and board representatives from Keystone, Union, and Allegheny-Clarion Valley School Districts to provide information to the community about a potential athletic co-op between the three school districts.

The window for deciding whether to co-op is short, according to district administration. If the districts don’t apply before Thursday, November 30, they will be disallowed from participating in playoffs in the 2024-2025 season.

According to district administration representatives, the main reason for co-oping is to give students more opportunities to play competitive sports. They pointed to PIAA rules that disallow districts from co-oping for the purpose of improving outcome potential in competitions.

Not all sports programs were on the table.

Administrators shared a 16-page Cooperative Athletics Procedural Handbook with community members, which detailed how the districts would cooperate should the three school boards vote for the co-op, including revenue and expense sharing and transportation plans.

After a one-hour presentation on November 1, which included answers to questions that were submitted, the floor was opened to the public for questions and comments. Several parents stated that the co-op would hurt participation rather than help it, citing some students’ desire to play with the friends that they’ve played with since they were children, along with concerns about added time spent being transported from school to school.

Other parents expressed concern that their children may not get enough playing time, and having larger teams would hurt their chances of seeing any time off the bench. Coaches countered that with larger rosters, more teams can be organized at the junior varsity and freshman level, making it more likely for second and third-stringers to get play time.

District administrators invited parents and concerned citizens to attend school board meetings in their districts and voice their support or opposition to their board members.

On November 13, parents of Keystone were invited to share their concerns before the athletic council meeting.

After Superintendent Hall gave his opening presentation, nearly a dozen community members took the stand to voice their opinions and ask questions.

The first of the speakers was a group of three Keystone baseball players, led by Kord Stewart, who spoke on behalf of the group.

In his remarks, Stewart requested the athletic council to approve the baseball co-op—a position that was not completely shared by the majority of the parents.

Stewart was the only student to speak on Monday evening, as he was followed by community members who strongly opposed the co-op.

Among the notable speakers were former Keystone boys’ soccer coach and current girls’ soccer coach Eric Mount.

Mount occupied the stand for nearly 30 minutes as he indicated many other parents provided him with questions to be answered.

As the time approached 8:00 p.m., Superintendent Hall announced that the public comment portion would need to wrap up in order for the athletic council to hold their regularly scheduled meeting.

After the last speaker, Hall thanked the community for their input, and the athletic council huddled at the front of the auditorium to begin their meeting. The majority of those in attendance stuck around for the meeting, which was still considered public.

The athletic council began deliberations with the eyes of community members bearing down.

The deliberations consisted of which athletic programs would be formally recommended for school board approval.

The following sports were considered for a potential co-op recommendation:

  • Varsity football
  • Junior high football
  • Varsity (sideline) cheerleading
  • Junior high (sideline) cheerleading
  • Varsity boys soccer
  • Varsity girls soccer
  • Junior high co-ed boys and girls soccer
  • Varsity boys cross country
  • Varsity girls cross country
  • Junior high boys cross country
  • Junior high girls cross country
  • Varsity girls golf
  • Junior high girls golf
  • Varsity girls basketball
  • Junior high girls basketball
  • Varsity baseball
  • Junior high baseball
  • Junior high softball
  • Varsity boys track & field
  • Varsity girls track & field
  • Junior high boys track & field
  • Junior high girls track & field

At the conclusion of the November 13 meeting, the athletic council decided to recommend just varsity and junior high football, as well as varsity and junior high baseball.


Keystone School Community Members Grill Athletic Council in Public Meeting Amid Potential Athletic Co-Op

Parents Speak Out as Potential Athletic Co-op Takes Center Stage at Joint Meeting

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Category: Local News, News, Schools, Sports

Jacob Deemer is a reporter for EYT Media Group, who is based out of Venango County. He started his career as a sports writer for a local newspaper before contributing to as a beat writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has spent over 6 years covering sports, crime, and local news in Venango, Clarion, and Jefferson Counties.
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