SHS considers district change

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 17, 2007

COURTLAND—Change could be in the wind for the athletic programs at Southampton High School.

Two different committees were created Monday to examine aspects of the school’s extracurricular sports program.

At the request of Principal Allene Atkinson and Athletic Director Littleton Parker, the county’s School Board agreed to endorse a committee to study leaving the Virginia High School League’s Bay Rivers District and joining the Southside District.

Another committee will establish priorities for improving the school’s athletic facilities and will begin a fund-raising campaign to raise money for those improvements.

School officials believe moving out of the Bay Rivers District could yield some significant benefits. Chief among those benefits would be shorter travel times and lower associated costs.

Of the 10 teams Southampton competes against in its current district, only Smithfield lies on this side of the James River. All of the high school’s other road games require a trip across the James River Bridge and long waits in traffic to get to the other schools.

“We have to leave very early to get to some of those schools,” School Superintendent Charles Turner said Monday.

The long commutes result in excessive lost instructional time and higher travel costs, he added.

Changing to the Southside District, which features teams from schools along the Route 58 and Route 460 corridors, would mean safer bus travel, since there would be fewer trips through congested metropolitan areas.

The change could also mean increased gate receipts at Southampton’s home games, since Southside fans would be more likely to travel to Southampton than Bay Rivers fans have been.

Atkinson said she expects that student interest in and community support for SHS athletics would also increase with the change, as the county would be pitted against a number of historic rivals.

The committee will study the issue this fall and present a recommendation to the School Board in December. If a change were recommended, the county would petition the VHSL next spring. Southside District competition could begin during the 2009-2010 school year.

The Athletic Facilities Improvement Committee, also endorsed by the School Board on Monday, will analyze the high school’s existing athletic facilities and needs, set priorities for improvements and begin to raise money to reach those goals.

Noting that the “community can sit on fantastic, new bleachers while watching the Southampton Indians play football” this year, Atkinson stated in a letter to the School Board that other needs also must be met.

“Southampton High School’s athletic facilities are in great need of improvement in order to meet the present and future needs of our students, parents and community,” she wrote.

Among the improvements that already have been identified are a new track, lights and a fence for the baseball and softball fields, a concession stand and restrooms for the baseball/softball/tennis/field hockey area, two additional tennis courts and resurfacing of existing courts, refurbishment of football stadium restrooms, re-grading the football field and construction of a football field house.

Atkinson conceded that there is little ability for the system to pay for those improvements out of its annual budget. “We realize that we must raise the funds ourselves if we are to make our goals become reality,” she told the School Board.

“Our needs are great, but so is our belief that we have the capability of making this happen ourselves.”