FULTON — Many student-athletes in the Fulton City School District felt left out of the decision to postpone all fall sports during a special Board of Education meeting this week, and took action Thursday to ensure their voices were heard.
The student-organized protest started soon after the first bell rang Thursday morning on the opening day of in-person classes at G. Ray Bodley High School. More than 100 students walked out of the building and assembled on the turf field to express their disappointment and urge the board to reconsider its position.
Parents, teachers, and administrators were also present, including Fulton superintendent, Brian Pulvino, who confirmed late Thursday afternoon that the decision was final despite the passionate plea.
“We thought that we weren’t heard by our board, the students just weren’t heard, and we wanted to go down there and show that we should be heard and try to fix what they voted,” Fulton senior Jack Broderick said.
Fulton senior boys soccer standout Ethan Caruana added: “They didn’t include us in the board meeting, we’re just getting our voices heard now.”
Fulton is one of more than a dozen Section 3 members that has decided against participating in low and moderate risk fall sports — soccer, cross country, tennis, golf, and swimming — and aims to push those seasons to March.
The Section 3 executive committee announced it will move forward with the fall season on Sept. 11 but left member schools the option to pull out. The state had previously approved the respective sports for interscholastic competition and released guidelines for a safe return to play.
Pulvino said that he made the final call after an hour-long discussion among the board Tuesday night, which was live-streamed to the public. Pulvino said the decision was based on the board majority expressing the desire to focus on health and safety and ensuring the success of the district re-opening plan amid COVID-19 concerns.
“The re-opening of schools is essential, and if we don’t get this right, all districts are faced with that, no matter what model you’re using,” Pulvino said. “Every district is faced with the fact that we are re-opening differently than anyone has ever re-opened.”
Pulvino described the decision as “gut-wrenching,” and commended the student protesters for the manner that they conducted the demonstration. He met with a group of 10 student organizers upon request afterward.
“They did a super job,” Pulvino said. “They were respectful, they were responsible, they were outstanding the way they represented themselves. … We met with a representative group and they did a great job expressing their points of view, the importance of athletics and all of the impact that it makes on their lives.”
Most in attendance at Thursday’s protest wore Fulton sports clothing, some held signs, and one student carried a flag of the Red Raiders logo and colors. Masks were worn throughout. A group of seniors organized the rally the day prior, utilizing social media to spread the word throughout the student body.
Alexa Patterson, one of the Fulton senior athletes who helped lead the charge, said that they also informed teachers and the district administration in advance of the plans. She was among the group that requested and was granted the meeting with Pulvino and other administrators to discuss their concerns after the rally.
“We were just trying to be as transparent as possible and go about it as respectfully as possible,” Patterson said.
“We feel that sports are really important,” she added. “They are used as motivators to keep kids present in school and do well in school so they can qualify for the sport. After being stuck in quarantine for so long, we feel that kids need to get out and participate. … The state has given us guidelines to do this safely, but they weren’t really willing to try.”
Patterson said that she was one of the many athletes that watched the live stream of the board meeting Tuesday night that was disappointed by the lack of student representation before the session concluded with the announcement to postpone fall sports. One board member spoke in favor of playing this fall.
“I was disappointed with how it seemed they all came with their mind set on their decision, instead of coming with, how can we figure this out and trying to discuss and make plans,” Patterson said. “They were kind of set on: ‘No.’”
Fulton is one of two Oswego County districts — along with Sandy Creek, which joined 12 Frontier League schools in pushing back its fall season on Wednesday — that have confirmed plans to postpone all fall sports.
Oswego High School will consider possibilities at a board meeting slated for 3:30 p.m. Friday, which was scheduled following three hours of board discussions Tuesday night.
Five county school districts — Altmar-Parish-Williamstown, Central Square, Mexico, Phoenix and Pulaski — have confirmed intentions to move forward in the approved sports with practices to begin as early as Monday.
“Sports is a savior for so many kids,” said Fulton freshman, Rebekah May, after the rally. “Kids rely on sports to stay out of bad homes, and to play a sport you need good grades, they act as a motivation for kids. With no sports, some won’t care about their grades and they start to slip and fail, and it’s another kid on the street getting into bad habits. We don’t want that, at all, we want to keep kids in school, happy and healthy.”
Gavin Doty, also a freshman athlete at Fulton who attended the protest, said that students in all high school grade levels participated Thursday in hopes that the board would take time to reconsider.
“Some people wake up in the morning and know they have a game that night, and they’re going to work hard in the classroom to make sure they’re eligible to play that night,” Doty said.
“We will follow the (safety) rules, we’ll do whatever we need to play,” he added. “We just want to get on the field again.”