Labor gridlock doesn’t slow action on gridiron

June 24th, 2015 9:05 am

First Posted: 9/6/2013

WEST PITTSTON — Fans showed no sign of strike fatigue at Friday’s Wyoming Area Warriors football game against the Mid Valley Spartans.

While varsity players raced around the gridiron, a little more dust probably accumulated in the classrooms as strikers hung up their signs after a fourth day on the picket lines.

The district’s sports teams continue showing up to scheduled matches despite the fact that 12 fall-sports coaches in the district are on the other side of the picket line, sworn to stay away from their teams until school board members and Wyoming Area Education Association representatives end the gridlock over a new contract.

Teachers have been working for three years under terms of a contract that expired in 2010 and promise to picket as long as they can or until their demands are met. Many fans who parked at the game later found fliers tucked under wiper blades urging them to ignore the school board’s claims. Other than the fliers, there was little union presence Friday.

Athletic Director Joseph Pizano teaches health and phys-ed classes and he’s been confined to striking with his colleagues. He had locked down match schedules before the season began, but in his absence, high school Principal Vito Quaglia is handling duties while Pizano strikes, making snap decisions as the needs arise. Quaglia is also pinch-hitting as head coach for the varsity cheerleaders.

All the district’s PIAA-sanctioned teams have either a head coach or assistant coach at the helm; however, the coaches unfettered by the strike are doing double-, and sometimes triple-, duty to make up for the absent coaches, Pizano said.

“Hopefully… we can come to some kind of resolution quick and get back to normalcy,” Pizano said. “As athletic director and a coach, this is definitely one of the toughest things I’ve had to do.”

On the field, the players seem unaffected by their coaches’ absence, said varsity head coach Randy Spencer. Football is missing six of its 12 coaches due to the strike, but Spencer credited his players’ resiliency for their performance so far.

“It certainly stretches our resources. … We’re obviously not at full strength, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re supporting our kids,” Spencer said.

Parents have been pushing back against the strikers, and many of them are concerned that fewer coaches will mean their children might miss opportunities, said uni0n President Melissa Dolman.

“I think that there’s a lot of concern from the public. … That’s a lot of what I hear,” Dolman said. “What I’m hearing is ‘what are we going to do about our sports?’”

She lamented that parents are not complaining more about empty classrooms. There has been no move to break the strike by coaches, Dolman said. “The strike is the strike. That’s it. And they’ve all vowed to not cross the picket line,” Dolman said

Pizano said he will follow through in supporting the athletes as soon as the strike ends.

“I’m going to do my job and help every one of my kids get what they need. It’s just not right now,” Pizano said.

Members of the high school student body council, as usual, painted their bodies the school’s colors, green and gold, for Friday’s game. The rowdy council members competed with enthusiastic cheerleaders on the field below shouting, “We are W-A!”

In the stands, high school cafeteria worker Anne Marie Skilonger cheered on the Warriors. She said the strike “stinks” and she’s not happy to be off the job, but the cheering crowds encouraged her. “I’m glad they came out to support the team.”