FRHSD sports history will be forever changed

The cuts to sports in the Freehold Regional High School District were not as draconian as the local rumor mill had suggested in recent weeks, but they were still damaging.

Indoor track and field has become the biggest casualty of the FRHSD Board of Education’s budget cuts for the 2010-11 school year. Tradition also took a beating with the cancellation of district championships.

Gone is the Jack Kuhnert Holiday Basketball Tournament, which dates back to 1969. Originally called the Freehold Regional District Holiday Tournament, it was renamed in 1997 in memory of Freehold High School’s legendary boys basketball coach Jack Kuhnert, who passed away that fall.

Also gone are the FRHSD cross country championships, which date back to 1973, and the FRHSD track and field championships, which began in 1972.

The FRHSD golf tournament, now a memory, can be traced back to 1976 when Marlboro High School golfer Jim Nantz got it started. Nantz has gone on to a career in the spotlight with CBS Sports, and the winner of the FRHSD golf tournament in recent years has received the Nantz trophy.

The budget cuts mean the indoor track and field athletes will not be able to compete for championships during the winter, and the loss of the indoor season could leave them at a competitive disadvantage in the spring when they have to go up against athletes who competed and trained during the winter months.

The indoor track and field athletes will also miss out on some college recruitment time. The winter season has become very important for college coaches, and the lack of an indoor season could cost some area athletes college scholarship opportunities.

The impact of the elimination of indoor track and field will be felt beyond the six schools in the FRHSD. The Shore Conference has been holding indoor division championships, and the A North Division meet looks to be in jeopardy because without FRHSD schools Howell, Freehold Township, Manalapan and Marlboro, there is no A North.

The Monmouth County Indoor Track and Field Championships could be in jeopardy as well without the participation of the six FRHSD schools.

Why indoor track and field was made the sacrificial lamb is a mystery, considering that upward of 35 percent of the FRHSD athletes who are involved in winter sports are in the track and field programs. The decision leaves hundreds of athletes with nowhere to go during the winter (basketball, for example, has a limited roster).

It is also difficult to understand why the FRHSD is cutting a program where its athletes have been so successful. Most athletic programs in the district pale in comparison to what these track and field athletes have achieved.

Without even going into the national championships and national records that were set in recent years by FRHSD athletes, let’s just go back to the 2010 season.

Howell’s Maggie Gilbertson was the Group IV state champion and Colts Neck’s Mike O’Dowd was an All-American at 5,000 meters. Freehold Township’s boys 4×800- meter relay team ran in the prestigious Millrose Games and the quartet’s indoor times qualified them to compete at the Penn Relays.

Howell’s Kellie Bresz (pole vault) and Marlboro’s Catherine Chukuka (400 meters) won Central Jersey state sectional championships, and Freehold Township’s Sean Walsh set the FRHSD record for the indoor pentathlon.

Howell (girls) and Freehold Township (boys) won A North team championships, and the Freehold Township boys and girls won the Monmouth County Relays. These are all championships that will not be brought back to the local schools this winter.

If you go back just one year, where would Manalapan’s Robby Andrews be without the indoor national records (800 and 1,000 meters) that he set in 2009?

FRHSD officials have said they will try to run indoor track and field as a pay-to-play sport this winter, and let’s hope so for the student athletes’ sake. But not every family may be able to afford the cost of participation, and the trend will still limit participation.

For those who may say an athlete can still run or jump or throw during the winter, the question is, where? And if pay-to-play is the future for high school sports, again, why is indoor track and field the guinea pig?

The FRHSD Track and Field Championships have been a source of pride for the athletes who have competed in that meet each spring since the early 1970s. The athletes like the idea of representing their school and competing against their fellow FRHSD athletes. Sadly, that opportunity is now gone, and there is no substitute for competition.

This fall, no boy harrier will be able to put his name alongside Jim Casey, Tom Fischer, Ty Jensen, Craig Forys and Robby Andrews as an FRHSD cross country champion, and no girl will join the company of Chris Baldes, Stella Cinoa, Lindsey Gallo and Ashley Higginson as a district winner.

And it is sad to see the Kuhnert basketball tournament leave the scene. The event provided so many memorable moments, like Ed Zucker’s brilliant 50-point performance for Manalapan in the 1981 final against St. Peter’s of Jersey City. Kuhnert’s Freehold High School teams brought the tournament its legitimacy. Marlboro’s great girls team at the start of the last decade first made their presence felt at the Kuhnert tournament in 2000.

There will be no such memories this winter.

Tim Morris is the sports coordinator for Greater Media Newspapers. He may be reached at tmorris@gmnews.com.