There are times when Woodbridge High School Activities Director Wes Bergazzi feels more like a circus ringmaster than a school administrator. He might have baseball and softball games and a track meet going on simultaneously at his school, with soccer players bouncing on their heels waiting to invade the field the minute the track teams leave.
"It is a juggling act sometimes," said Bergazzi, who estimates that 1,500 students at his school participate in some 70 activities, from sports to band to clubs. He is ultimately responsible for all of them.
Bergazzi is not alone. Other Prince William County high school activities directors say they also are strapped for time, help and facilities. Superintendent Edward L. Kelly agrees the burden must be eased, not only for the sake of administrators, but for the safety of students and the public as well. There sometimes are too few administrators to supervise the many high school sporting events.
"If we're talking about exposure risk . . . it only takes one major lawsuit, and you're probably talking significant sums of money," Gar-Field Activities Director Chuck Robinson said. "You can either pay now or pay later."
The solutions most often mentioned are to fortify the staffs in activities offices, like Fairfax County did several years ago, or turn over some programs to the Prince William County Park Authority to run.
No one disputes the importance of activities. How to support all of them is the question.
"There has to be a limit to what schools can do," said Wayne Mallard, Area II associate superintendent for county schools. "Where is that limit? When does it become the responsibility of the community or parents or Park Authority or organizations outside the school to pick up some of these?"
The Fairfax Solution Many Prince William activities directors say they do not need to look far to find a solution.
"The answer is more help," Robinson said, "and the model is Fairfax County."
Six years ago, a task force composed mostly of Fairfax County activities directors conducted a study to determine why several of their colleagues had resigned or retired within a short period. The study found that "excessive time commitment" was the overriding factor, stemming from the addition of new sports and increased administrative duties.
In response, Fairfax County gave each of its 23 high schools a stipend for an assistant activities director to handle clubs. That position is staffed by a teacher. Fairfax already had in place an assistant activities director, who teaches one or two classes in addition to helping with athletics. Each of the assistant activities directors receive stipends of $3,432.
The county also gave the activities directors three $2,432 supplements to help cover field maintenance, equipment and facilities, and game management. They also received summertime clerical help.
"The school system really stuck their neck out for us to make sure programs operated at full peak capacity," said Bruce Patrick, coordinator for student activities and athletic programs for Fairfax County Public Schools. "It was a sign from our school system that they thought these programs were important, even though we were in tough financial times."
If the Prince William activities directors believe they need more help, Patrick said, it might be in their best interest to conduct a study of their own.
"I think they need some centralized proponent and advocate for the programs," Patrick said. "You can't go to the school board with emotion. You have to go with hard, cold facts."
West Potomac Activities Director Jeff Dietze, a member of the task force that recommended the changes in Fairfax County, said the additional support revitalized the activities director position. "Instead of working four or five nights a week, we work two or three," said Dietze, a Montclair resident, in his 25th year as an athletic or activities director. "It's not only physically [beneficial], it's a big morale deal."
Fairfax County activities directors, unlike their Prince William counterparts, are on the same salary scale as assistant principals and guidance directors. One of their duties is to evaluate teachers. Prince William activities directors do not evaluate teachers but tend to spend more time maintaining facilities. Some mow and line their own athletic fields.
"We know the Fairfax people and we sit on boards with them," Stonewall Jackson Activities Director Doug Dean said. "There are ADs up there who haven't marked a field in 19 years. We're certainly envious of what they have."
"My ADs are administrators," Patrick said. "I don't want them out mowing lawns."
No Central Coordinator The seven Prince William County activities offices are less uniform than the 23 in Fairfax. Some schools have an administrator with the title of assistant activities director, some do not. Some have more secretarial help than others.
One reason cited for that variation is the lack of a county administrator like Patrick, a former football coach who has been a full-time advocate for Fairfax County student activities since the early 1990s.
The position in Prince William closest to Patrick's is that of county curriculum supervisor for health, physical education, driver's education, athletics, art, music and ROTC, a post former Gar-Field High School girls basketball coach Fred Milbert stepped into in July.
The School Board voted two years ago to add a position to just oversee county activities, but the board did not see a need to fill it. School Board Chairman Lucy S. Beauchamp said that many of the proposed duties, such as eligibility appeals, have been folded into Milbert's responsibilities.
Not all activities directors are convinced a county activities coordinator would help because of the way the Prince William school system is structured. Many decisions are made at the school level or by one of three area superintendents.
"It's a political and a practical problem," Potomac Activities Director Frank Higgins said. "Who would he report to? And if he can't make decisions, how good is he?"
The Club Alternative Brentsville Activities Director Sonny Hagy said his school has its own version of Y2K. It stands for "yes to kids," and he even ordered buttons that play off that theme.
But Hagy, and Kelly, are among those who believe that the schools should not always be the ones to say yes. They would like to see the Park Authority assume responsibility for some sports. Beauchamp said she will not support any additional high school sports, which might come as unwelcome news to pockets of supporters for boys volleyball, bowling and ice hockey.
"I don't see the public schools activities program as basically the parks and rec program," Hagy said. "The club sports need to be turned over to them. We can't just continue to offer every sport because of a certain interest group. We have a lot of AAU basketball. I'm not so sure that some of the other sports shouldn't be given AAU status."
Kelly said: "We're getting to the point where we can't do it all by ourselves. We need to think hard about going with something similar to European clubs and make activities more club-type activities."
Beth Robertson, public relations officer for the Park Authority, said her organization is not equipped to handle high school sports, and she thinks it would be an unpopular move with parents and students.
"I don't know how much the community would be for it," Robertson said. "With sports teams at schools, they have ownership and a sense of school spirit and community pride. That would be kind of lost."
Robertson added that if the schools were seeking independent contractors to run programs, the Park Authority might consider placing a bid.
Beauchamp, whose children attended Osbourn Park, said she would be saddened to see activities emphasis shifted away from the high schools.
"I look at what we did as a family," she said. "From the time my children were little, I took them to plays, concerts, basketball games and football games at Osbourn Park. You identify a great deal with the high school. My kids always knew they'd be part of the OP family."
Mallard, the Area II associate superintendent, has attended club soccer matches involving teams loaded with college talent, but he has noticed that the crowds have not been as spirited or as large as they can be at matches that pit high school versus high school.
"When you play club soccer or select soccer," Mallard said, "you don't get a W for Woodbridge or an OP letter jacket. And that means a lot."
CAPTION: For many activities directors, such as Hylton High's Jim Qualls, lining the football field is part of the job.
CAPTION: "There has to be a limit to what schools can do. Where is that limit? When does it become the responsibility of the community or parents or Park Authority or organizations outside the school to pick up some of these?"-- Wayne Mallard, Area II associate superintendent
CAPTION: There are endless details for Hylton High's Jim Qualls to see to in preparation for an evening football game.
CAPTION: Osbourn Park Activities Director Dan Evans monitors the many aspects of hosting a football game via radio.