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School board makes difficult decision in Varsity Singers-HC Wrestling Club contention of weekend for big events

The Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees made a difficult decision Tuesday night, ending a source of contention between the Huntington County Wrestling Club and the Huntington North Varsity Singers.

Each group had hoped to secure facilities at the high school on the same weekend next March for its most significant event of the year.

The board, overruling school policy and the HNHS principal's decision, gave the weekend to the wrestlers.

The problem, which surfaced this spring, is that the Wrestling Club's major tournament and the Varsity Singers' Midwest Showcase invitational were planned for the same weekend. In 2010, both groups hoped to host their events at the high school the weekend of March 12-14.

A similar problem arose during the spring of 2008, but Ken Kline, the high school's principal at the time, made the decision to allow the wrestling tournament to be held during the requested weekend and asked the Varsity Singers to adjust their schedule.

Andy Eckert, president of the wrestling club, and John Wenning, director of the Varsity Singers, met twice in an effort to remedy the situation, as both events are important not only to the groups involved, but also to the community as a whole. The two were unable to reach an agreement.

Huntington North Principal Jeremy Gulley explained to School Board members that the March date in 2010 was awarded to the Varsity Singers based on the corporation's policy for "Use of School Facilities." The hierarchy, according to the policy, is that school-sponsored activities take precedence, followed by school-affiliated activities, community sports, and finally non-commercial events.

While Eckert admits that it's important for Huntington County to continue to host both the Wrestling Club's tournament and the Varsity Singers' invitational, he also says his hands are tied when it comes to moving the date of the tournament.

"It's in our best interest for both of these wonderful activities to be held at the (high) school," Eckert told the board. "I spoke to John Wenning, and I support his program. We just don't have a lot of flexibility" when it comes to scheduling the wrestling tournament, which is sanctioned by the Indiana State Wrestling Association (ISWA). The ISWA also sets the date for this and other tournaments held around the state.

Even though the HC Wrestling Club is not a school-sponsored event, it does involve youngsters from the county's elementary, middle and high schools, Eckert said. And the tournament in Huntington brings "thousands of people" into the community, he added.

"This is the largest tournament in the state," he said. "It generates a lot of money and it all goes back into the schools." The club recently spent $45,000 to purchase five new wrestling mats to replace those at HNHS that were 20 years old.

It also was not an easy task securing the tournament in Huntington.

"It took a lot to get the ISWA to bring it here," Eckert said, adding the community could easily lose the tournament if he could not secure a facility for that weekend. "The tournament had never been held north of Indianapolis and never been to the same community five years in a row" until it was brought to Huntington, he said later. "That speaks well of our community."

HCCSC Superintendent Tracey Shafer explained to the board that it is also difficult for Wenning to move the date of the Midwest Showcase, sponsored by the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA), which also brings thousands of people and dollars into the county.

Show choirs qualify for the state competition based on their placings at various ISSMA-sponsored events around the state.

"The competition schedule for Varsity Singers is February and March," he said. "If he (Mr. Wenning) moves the date, he limits the kids' opportunities to qualify for state."

The Midwest Showcase is also one of two major fundraisers for the group, the other being the Pomp and Plenty, which is usually held in the fall.

Shafer also said he understands where both groups are coming from in making their cases to secure the high school.

"I don't fault either one," he added.

Gulley told the board that he appreciated the efforts of Wenning and Eckert in trying to work out a solution, but said he ultimately followed board policy in making a final decision. He was also a bit concerned that Wenning was not on hand to offer insight into his program since he was unaware the situation would be discussed during the meeting, as it was not listed on the agenda.

"I would appreciate it if school administrators were allowed to follow policy," Gulley said. "The lack of Mr. Wenning being here is of great concern."

Since the school board was planning to discuss some of its policies later in the meeting, they opted to amend the agenda to include the one regarding use of school facilities.

"The administration is following the policy" in its decision to allow the Varsity Singers use of the high school next March, President Kevin Patrick said to his fellow board members. "If you want it to be different, you'll have to change the policy."

Following a discussion among Board members, Scott Hoffman made a motion that would effectively override Gulley's decision.

"I move to approve the use of Huntington North High School for the Wrestling Club March 12, 13 and 14 and ask the Varsity Singers to move their program to a different date," he said. Hoffman, Patrick, and board members Rex Baxter, Jennifer Goff and Troy Smart voted in favor of the measure, while Tom King voted in opposition. Board member Rick Brubaker was absent Tuesday evening.

Patrick, while admitting the decision was a difficult one, said the board is responsible not only to the students of Huntington County but also to the community as a whole.

"We have to do what is in the best interest of the community," he said.