Warren players and coaches celebrate after the Dragons defeated Elizabeth Forward to win the program's first ever PIAA Tournament game. Photo by Mark Evans.

Sheffield-Warren Girls Basketball Co-Op to Remain in Place

April 8, 2024

RUSSELL, Pa. – An effort to reinstate the girls’ basketball program at Sheffield Middle High School failed in a 5-4 vote Monday night.

The request to reinstate the program was first made in January and then tabled until the team’s season was over. The motion moved from committee after the March committee meeting and was finally voted on at Monday’s regular Warren County School District Board of Directors meeting.

Savanna Cochran, Tammi Holden, Stephanie Snell, and Dan Sullivan voted in favor of reinstatement, while Cody Brown, Kevin Lindvay, Paul Mangione, Mary Passinger, and John Wortman voted against.

Passinger said the athletic task force formed in 2017/18 determined that something needed to be done to address athletic participation in the district, but no one was willing to give up anything.

“All of the coaches that were there, the parents that were there, everyone agreed that something had to be done in the field of athletics,” Passinger said. “Only not their school . . . not their school . . . not their school. And you left that committee with virtually nothing done because nobody wanted to give anything up. And there was nowhere else to go.”

In a prepared statement, Wortman outlined four reasons why he said he could not vote in favor of the measure.

“First, the team in its current form had an incredible season, a record of 22-6, first in the region, a runner-up finish in District 10, and the team’s first-ever victory in PIAA tournament play,” Wortman said. “For us to break up the successful program would be a travesty for our student-athletes.”

Wortman also pointed to the timing of the request as Warren was moved up from Class 4A to Class 5A (then voluntarily moved up to Class 6A) in the latest PIAA classification cycle due to the co-op. Removing the co-op would not have led to a change in classification. He added that reinstating the Sheffield program would force some current players to choose between returning to Sheffield, or fully transferring to Warren and being ineligible for next year’s postseason.

“Finally, for this board to add increased costs to our budget given the current financial situation the district decision would be a breach of our fiduciary duty to the school district’s taxpayers,” Wortman said. “All of our available financing should be directed to academics, and its supplemental programming instead of athletes and mascots.”

During a previous meeting, Sheffield Athletic Director Corey Copely said reinstating the program would cost approximately $19,000.

Snell said the co-op’s logistics, the district doesn’t provide transportation to practices, make it impossible for some students to participate.

“Most of the parents that live in Sheffield do not work in Sheffield,” Snell said. “It would be a struggle at best for most of these kids, for their parents work six days a week. The kids just simply are not going to be able to get there. They’re going to have to make decisions do they fill their gas tank to get to work or do they fill their gas tank to get to basketball?”

Sullivan was concerned that keeping the co-op would reduce opportunities for students.

“My only concerns are the kids that are going to be left behind in other programs because they won’t be able to participate,” Sullivan said. “So we’re forcing kids to go to Warren to play, but certain kids aren’t going to be able to get there. So we’re forcing those kids to not be able to participate because we’re making them go to Warren.”

Passinger said she understood where both sides were coming from, but felt reinstating the co-op would effectively punish those athletes who still chose to play basketball.

“We told them if they wanted to play basketball, they had to go to Warren,” Passinger said. “Now we are saying to them, you did what we asked you to do, but now we’re going to punish you and next year you can not be in the playoffs if you want to stay with the team. We were very clear on what they needed to do. They did exactly what we asked them to do. And now we are going to punish them and I cannot do that.”

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