Riverhead School District parents fundraising to save sports, music

A recent announcement by Section XI, which governs high school sports in Suffolk County, that all sports will be postponed until 2021 may have come as a disappointment to many student athletes and their families.

But in Riverhead, the decision offers a glimmer of hope as a group of community members rally to try and save sports and other programs eliminated after voters rejected the school budget twice earlier this year.

“Now we have an opportunity,” said Erika Redmond of Aquebogue who has been a vocal advocate of fundraising to support student extracurriculars.

Soon after the district’s proposed $147.1 million budget proposal failed for the second time in July, Ms. Redmond started a Facebook group, Riverhead Strong – Saving Sports and Music, to serve as a springboard for fundraising ideas and other ways to appeal to the Board of Education in order to preserve extracurricular activities.

The recent delay for fall sports, Ms. Redmond said, is a “gift” of additional time to begin fundraising. Earlier this week, Ms. Redmond launched a web page and GoFundMe to support the effort.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Board of Education rejected a proposal by member Chris Dorr to dip into reserves in order to fund varsity fall sports, high school music and clubs. The proposal by Mr. Dorr would have spent $379,657 from reserves and he suggested winter and spring sports could be revisited later and ultimately funded by a mix of community and district dollars.

His proposal drew support from board members Therese Zuhoski and Virginia Healy, but board members Laurie Downs, Susan Koukounas and Matthew Wallace expressed hesitation at tapping reserve funds in a year where substantial cuts to state aid are expected. Board member Brian Connelly was absent from that meeting, though in the past has said he would consider using reserves in an emergency situation such as this.

Ms. Redmond said her ultimate goal is to raise enough funds to cover sports, music and clubs for grades 7 through 12, a number the district has estimated to be around $1 million. “We’ve been in communication with the Board of Education and people at the district level to try and get an idea of how much we need to raise,” Ms. Redmond said.

As of Thursday, the GoFundMe page had raised $2,450.

District officials are awaiting an audit report that will more clearly define what savings may exist from the 2019-2020 school year. Board members have said that those reports could help determine if any costs for funding sports, music or clubs could be offset.

In addition to the GoFundMe page, Ms. Redmond is working with a team of other parents and community members on other fundraisers, including selling T-shirts, sports discount cards and other charity events. “We’re bouncing round a lot of ideas,” she said Thursday, adding that many resourceful parents are already exploring grant opportunities as well. 

Ms. Redmond also hopes that Riverhead alumni who have since found prestige in their athletic careers, such as Ethan Greenidge who went on to plat for Villanova University and now, the New Orleans Saints, can help their cause. “We’re looking to get traction a little bit further than the town community, since it’s a large amount of money that will need to be raised,” she explained. “We don’t want to be halfway there and then tell the kids, ‘Sorry, we can’t do this.’”

Aware of the difficult financial position the district is in, Ms. Redmond said education must clearly be prioritized.

“But we can’t lose sight of the fact that [sports, clubs and music] are part of educating the whole student,” she said. “For some, it’s their motivation.”