Emma Roell speaks to the Warren County School District Board of Directors about the girls' basketball co-op between Warren and Sheffield. Roell, one of two Sheffield players on the team, advocated for keeping the co-op in place. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

Sheffield Girls’ Basketball Reinstatement to be Put Before Full Board

March 26, 2024

RUSSELL, Pa. – Following a lengthy, and at times emotional, discussion, the question of whether to reinstate the Sheffield girls’ basketball program was moved out of committee Monday night and to the April full board meeting.

At the end of a nearly hour-long discussion during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the committee voted 5-3 to add reinstating girls’ basketball at Sheffield as an agenda item for the next full board meeting. Savannah Cochran, Tammi Holden, Mary Passenger, Stephanie Snell, and Dan Sullivan were in favor of moving the question out of committee, while Cody Brown, Kevin Lindvay, and Paul Mangione were not. Board member John Wortman was absent.

Sheffield and Warren have been in a co-op since the start of the 2021-22 season when Sheffield was unable to field a team due to low numbers.

Sheffield student Emily Davidson who, at the time was one of three Sheffield students on the Warren girls’ basketball team, asked the board to consider reinstatement at its January full board meeting. Davidson was unable to attend Monday, but her grandmother, Terry Hillier, spoke on her behalf and reiterated Davidson’s desire to see the Sheffield program brought back.

On Monday, Emma Roell, another Sheffield student on the team, asked that the district keep the co-op in place.

“I’ve never been a part of a program that has made me feel more of a family member than they do,” Roell said. “They’re all like my sisters. I could not imagine playing for Sheffield again.”

Roell added that the goals she wants to achieve in basketball would not be aligned with those of most of her Sheffield teammates if the program was brought back.

“I want to go places in basketball and Sheffield is not a competitive school,” Roell said. “And I know in basketball, if we do get our team back, it would just be full of a bunch of girls who want to play for fun. I don’t think that any of them have any plans of playing when they’re older and I don’t think they love the sport as much as me. I will not go to Sheffield again, and if I have to transfer and not play in playoffs*, I’ll do that.”

After hearing from administrators at both schools in January, the committee opted to table the discussion until the 2023-24 basketball season was completed. On Monday, Warren coaches Lisa LaVan and Jenny Phillips told the board why they would like to see the co-op remain.

“The Sheffield co-op is easily the best thing that has happened to the Warren girls basketball program,” LaVan said. “We did not seek out this co-op. This co-op was placed on our lap three days before our season three years ago. When these girls came to us three days before the season, I wasn’t excited at first because the chemistry was going to change, it was going to be a job, and it wasn’t going to be easy. You’re mending together, pushing together two different groups. However, we welcomed them with open arms just like our family does in this program. We gave them every opportunity and holy crap did they deliver. These girls are a part of our family.”

Sheffield Athletic Director Corey Copley said that while the co-op experience has been good for those players who have participated, reinstating the Sheffield program would allow more students to participate.

“In the three years (of the co-op) we’ve had five girls go out to basketball,” Copley said. “There’s a lot more to it than just going out. The logistics of getting to and from practices, games, and so forth. So I mean whatever the reasons are, they’re not going out. We’re confident that more will come out if we have a program to offer at Sheffield. I mean, that’s pretty much what it comes down to. Giving them experiences, give them the opportunity, and we hope that you will give them that chance.”

Board members shared their perspectives as well.

“The eighth and ninth-grade classes at Sheffield are a little bit higher than what they have been,” Mangione said. “And then once you get back into sixth and seventh grade, those numbers go back down into the low 30s and high 20s. So my concern is, how sustainable is it? I mean, if we’re just doing this for a couple of years while the numbers are high, and then there’s another forced co-op in three years. That’s not solving anything.”

Sullivan countered that having numbers in younger grades is how a program builds sustainability.

“I’ve built plenty of programs,” Sullivan said. “You need to start at some point. You can start at 15, but those kids see that program. They want to actually come out for it and want to try to build it back up.”

Snell said having a program back at Sheffield will give more girls the confidence to continue playing after junior high.

“Mrs. LaVan you know, touching on basketball saved her life well, luckily Peyton (Wotorson) and Emma (Roell) have the confidence that most of these, you know, eighth and ninth-grade girls don’t,” Snell said. “So they are lucky enough that they went out, but most of those kids do not have the confidence to do so in my opinion.”

After hearing arguments from both sides, Passenger said she was torn over the best course of action. Ultimately, she said, district policy should be kept in mind.

“We said that, in that (athletic) committee, that once your program is gone, it’s gone,” Passenger said. “So are we going to be opening a can of worms here where we let them come back and then Youngsville says they have this many people for a football team and they want a chance to try it again. And then you know two years later the numbers aren’t there. We put that policy for a reason.”

Passenger referenced the Athletic Task Force the district put together in 2018 to try to determine why participation numbers were low across many district programs. The district set minimum participation numbers for each sport out of that work.

“We brought all the coaches in, we brought all the athletic directors in and said, you know how can we fix this or how can we make this better,” Mangione said. “It’s a very emotional thing, as everybody knows, so let’s take the emotion out of it. Let’s find a way to figure out the solutions when they pop up. Obviously, we’re still sitting here trying to figure that out and trying to learn but, as Mrs. Passenger stated, that was the thing moving forward. Because nobody wanted to do anything or make any changes. So, you know, it was kinda like, if we get there and you lose your program, it’s gone. Right wrong. or indifferent, that’s what the policy and procedure has been since that time.”

The agenda item to reinstate Sheffield girls’ basketball will be added to the Apr 8, 2024, full board meeting.

*Editor’s note: Students who transfer after their 10th-grade year, even if an academic transfer, are ineligible to play in the postseason for that year per PIAA bylaws.

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