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High Schools Hunt Eligible Players

September 6, 1985

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ If a high school student is male, breathing and capable of a C-minus average, chances are he’s under pressure in Springfield to play football or soccer.

With up to 75 percent of the returning lettermen ineligible in the wake of a crackdown on grades, coaches hit the halls Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to round up enough eligible players to field football and soccer squads at two of the city’s four high schools.

Students at Technical High, which may be able to field only a cross-country team, were greeted with posters pleading ″Keep the Tiger alive. Sign up for football today.″ Commerce High Principal Gene Basili made a personal appeal for players during his opening of school meetings with each class.

″Our coaches are out campaigning and we intend to have a football team,″ vowed Tech Principal Willard Wright. He said the school, which is slated to be merged with Classical next year, has fielded a football team ″since its beginning″ in 1906.

″With this being the last year of Tech soccer, if nothing else you want to have a season just for the memories,″ said soccer coach Gary Mindell. He said 75 percent of his returning players were declared ineligible, because they failed to maintain a C-average.

″We are a little newer school. We weren’t founded until 1910, but I think there was maybe one year when we didn’t have a football team,″ said Basili. ″I think we are going to make it. We have 15 signed up and that’s not counting freshmen. But we won’t really know until Monday.″

Tom Russo, supervisor of athletics for the city’s 5,000-student high school system, said the schools need at least 25 players for football and 15 for soccer. The football and soccer teams at the city’s two other high schools, Classical and Putnam Vocational, are not threatened, he said. If Tech cancels football, it will be the third team Coach Tyrone Sullivan has seen fall to grades in the past year.

Last spring, when the grade policy went into effect at the urging of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Tech girls basketball and softball teams folded in mid-season for lack of players.

Commerce Football Coach Tom Ryan said 16 of his 24 returning players were benched because of grades.

″I had one of the best football teams I had in a long, long time and now I can’t coach them,″ Ryan said. ″I don’t feel sorry for myself, I feel sorry for the kids.″

The lack of players has forced Commerce to cancel its Sept. 14 opening game, but Russo said it may be rescheduled if enough players can be found.

Coach Kim Varzeas said he had expected 16 players back from last year’s squad, which was the first Commerce boy’s soccer team to qualify for playoffs in 27 years. However, only two remained eligible at the end of the last school year and another two managed to bring up their grades in summer school.

Commerce girls soccer coach Gerry Wroblewski said half of his returning players were benched. Tech does not have a girl’s soccer team.

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