Kennedy Catholic High School dismissed criticism this week that its proposed move of its sports teams from Section 1 to the Catholic High School Athletic Association could gut its girls sports program, an assertion made by a CHSAA official and some parents.
In part, Kennedy spokesperson Alexander Malecki said that, although the CHSAA does not offer girls lacrosse or field hockey, the school plans to move those teams to an independent league that includes teams like Hackley in Tarrytown and Harvey in Katonah.
The proposed moves have the support of former Kennedy athletic director and current field hockey coach Patty Maurer, who said, "I think it's a positive thing for the future of the school."
While part of the shift is clearly fueled by anger over Section 1's decision this year to place Kennedy's baseball and boys basketball teams in big-school Class AA due to their success, concerns about future enrollment also play a part.
Kennedy, which is located in Somers, has 556 students -- 287 girls and 269 boys. Sixty percent play interscholastic sports, although numbers aren't broken down by gender.
But, according to the school's president, Father Mark Vaillancourt, Kennedy is drawing fewer students from Putnam and northern Westchester and more from southern and central Westchester due to the closure of many area Catholic elementary schools.
He argues joining the CHSAA, in which the local region includes nine schools in Manhattan, eight in the Bronx, five on Staten Island and five in Westchester, would attract students.
Malecki said Vaillancourt would wait until hearing what schools Kennedy's teams would likely play before making a final decision. He said no word is expected for about two weeks.
Section 1, meanwhile, is forming its fall sports schedules including Kennedy. However, on Tuesday the CHSAA released a football schedule with the Gaels included.
Debate has not centered on football but rather girls teams.
Malecki maintained the school is concerned equally about girls and boys teams and no team would be lost if changes proceed.
The CHSAA would allow Kennedy to potentially bolster enrollment by recruiting for sports. Recruiting is banned in state public high school sports leagues.
But parent Jim Hennessy, who wants parents to vote on the matter, questioned whether lost local competition might translate to lower enrollment.
"No report has been presented to parents about cost savings, potential recruitment and how beneficial it would be to the school. The point is the decision is being made under very questionable grounds," Hennessy said.
Section 1 coordinator Jen Simmons confirmed last week that Kennedy initially sought to keep its girls teams in the section but the section's constitution prohibits schools from separating teams.
Travel and the quality of opponents' gyms and fields for girls are at the center of debate.
In an e-mail, Vaillancourt said, "Kennedy would not compete in Manhattan, outside of tournament play, and trips to Staten Island and other remote distances would be reserved for weekends."
Although declining to name who Vaillancourt spoke to, Malecki, in fact, said all indications are that teams would play a Westchester/Bronx schedule.
But Cardinal Spellman athletic director Jane Morris, the CHSAA's girls soccer chairperson, said the league schedules by skill level, not geography.
As a result, she said Kennedy's girls soccer would likely play on Staten Island and other teams would have Manhattan games.
But, moreover, while Vaillancourt said he'd visited most probable competitors and was "confident" in their facilities, Morris described poor conditions at most all-girls schools -- tiny, low-ceiling gyms and schools using what she described as "a patch of dirt" for softball.
"Coaches use cans of Ajax (to line them)," she said of some, adding many are time-restricted public fields.
"I just can't imagine they did research," she said of Kennedy's administration. "It's not that we don't want you. But you have no idea how far back you're going. He's (Vaillancourt's) hell-bent on doing this for the boys. The boys are not giving anything up.
"In my opinion, they probably should have had scrimmages to see if it's the right move but to come in blind like this it's not going to help their program like they think it is."