09/02/05 — Business as usual -- Despite gas woes, area sports teams play on

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Business as usual -- Despite gas woes, area sports teams play on

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 2, 2005 2:02 PM

While martial law has been declared in the Gulf Coast states to thwart looting and other uprisings, the overall affects of Hurricane Katrina have stretched into eastern North Carolina.

Strong damaging winds and flooding led to power outages, which in turn, nearly crippled pipelines that feed gas and diesel fuel into the southeastern states. Shortages began late Wednesday evening and extended into Thursday, prompting legislators to make decisions involving fuel usage.

Consumers lined up at pumps throughout Thursday and filled their tanks since gas stations threatened to shut down through Labor Day weekend. Gas and diesel companies can't guarantee new shipments due to offshore rigs sustaining significant damage from the hurricane.

The unexpected crunch hasn't trickled into area school systems ... particularly travel involved with getting students to school and athletic teams. However, athletics directors and principals from counties in the News-Argus coverage area spent Thursday discussing possible scenarios with their respective superintendents.

Schools in Duplin, Greene and Johnston Counties had not canceled any athletic events the remainder of the week. Some officials speculated on fuel reserves, but did not mention their longevity.

"The first priority is to run the yellow buses and then it depends on what happens with the fuel supply," said Steve Bryant, Greene Central principal. "We have put out memos to our coaches to find ways to conserve fuel before something becomes mandatory.

"We'll take it day by day (after the holiday) and see how the fuel situation looks. (Canceling games) might be a possibility, but hopefully we'll see some relief."

Bryant said that contests involving women's tennis, volleyball and junior varsity football played as scheduled Thursday. He urged teams to share buses to help save what has become a precious commodity in a 24-hour period.

Cancelling non-revenue sports could aid the shortage situation.

"Where do you draw the line?" Princeton High athletics director Al Musgrave mused. "And just because these are non-revenue sports, do these kids get punished? It's a decision I don't want to make.

"Right now we have not received any word to cut anything out as far as athletics go in this county. Until somebody tells us to park them, we are going to roll them out."

Musgrave echoed Bryant's sentiment of education first, sports second.

Regardless, the cost of operating buses does affect a county school system's budget. Johnston County schools are charged 10 cents per mile each time an activity bus leaves the parking lot for either a field trip or athletic event.

The money assists in the cost of fuel and maintenance to keep the buses in good working condition.

If gas prices continue to escalate with no immediate relief, Bryant said that Greene County officials will undoubtedly need to re-evaluate their budget concerning bus usage. A continued shortage would prompt further discussion about athletics.

Who gets affected first?

Johnston County has several middle schools. Greene County has one which feeds its lone high school, while North Duplin has two. Those teams might suffer the first cut, followed by non-revenue sports in high schools.

Unsubstantiated rumors floated throughout the day in Duplin County. North Duplin athletics director Ken Avent Sr. spent the afternoon painting the lines on the football field. The Rebels open their home schedule against Topsail at 7:30 p.m. today at H.E. Grubbs Field.

"They haven't passed anything down from the superintendent office that I'm aware of and I've been here all day," said Avent Sr.

Eastern North Carolina has experienced its fair share of hurricanes, but has endured few indirect influences from other major storms. Bryant, Musgrave and Avent Sr. never imagined that Katrina would have an economic impact.

"We're going to have to re-look at how we do things and what we can do in the future if we face this situation again to keep our activities going," said Bryant.