Braves savor start of spring preseason

FONDA – At least for one day, the Fonda-Fultonville spring sports teams were just happy to be there.

After a tumultuous offseason that saw spring sports cut from the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District budget in mid-December and then reinstated in late January, the Braves’ baseball and softball teams officially began their preseason Monday.

The track and field team also was saved but did not begin Monday. Track coach Mark Therrien said his team would begin the preseason March 11.

“It’s great,” said Dan Valchovic, a senior on the baseball team. “It was definitely a struggle in the offseason. I think everybody’s looking forward to playing this season.”

The district cut funding for spring sports Dec. 17 in an attempt to close a mid-year $500,000 budget gap. The Board of Education reinstated spring sports Jan. 29 after the coaches and the teachers’ bargaining unit agree to volunteer during the spring. Robert Brown, owner of Brown Transportation, also donated his company’s services for transportation to athletic contests.

It made for a tumultuous six weeks at Fonda-Fultonville High School, especially for the seniors.

“It’s been crazy,” softball coach Kari MacDougall said. “It’s been very emotional for the girls. I have six seniors and they were beside themselves. My entire team was a nervous wreck. They’re very fortunate. They’re grateful right now.”

It also may have set the Braves a little behind the rest of the Colonial Council competition, as everything that went through the school district stopped in mid-December. Any offseason work the players wanted to put in had to be done outside the school district.

Baseball coach Rick Palumbo said he normally opened the gym in early January for baseball players wanting to get some offseason work in. This year, he didn’t open it until the middle of February.

“We got a late start,” Palumbo said. “We’ve got some kids that were going down the line and going down to Latham and stuff, working on hitting.”

MacDougall noticed the effect as well.

“I think a couple of them weren’t sure what would happen so I don’t think their training started as it should have, which we saw [Monday] in conditioning,” she said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s a great group of girls and they’ve got a lot of heart. They’ll pull through.”

Not only did Palumbo, the former basketball coach at Canajoharie, feel the monthlong void while sports were in limbo, so did one of his players. Senior Kevin Twardzik gave up basketball to focus on his senior baseball season.

“It was definitely difficult,” he said. “It was longer for me because this was my first year not playing basketball. I decided not to play this year and it was a lot longer. Without the certainty of whether we were going to have spring sports or not, it was tough. But once we found out it was going to happen, we got excited.”

While addressing his team before at the start of Monday’s practice, Palumbo reminded his team of how close it came to not having a season, and at least for the first day, the Braves could just enjoy being there.

The offseason book is closed. Now the work for the Braves’ spring sports teams turns toward getting ready for the start of the regular season in early April.

“It feels good, especially being a senior,” said baseball player Clyde Sammons. “I’ve been through the program my entire high school career. It would have been really bad if we didn’t have it. It’s good to be here. It’s good to get going. Hopefully, we’ll have a good season.”