By Christina Santucci
Students and parents at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village are crying foul over scheduling changes at the school they say have shortchanged student athletes. They say the number of sports practice days was cut in half, teams could not play games on their home court and bleachers in the gym were bolted shut so that parents and pals were discouraged from attending matches.
Basketball and volleyball are among the sports played in the gym.
“Compared to other schools, we have one of the best gyms out there, but we’re not even able to set foot on the court to play,” Van Buren junior and varsity basketball player Karina Wong wrote in a letter to state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose).
The city Department of Education said in a statement Tuesday that home games had been canceled because of a broken wall divider in the gymnasium and would resume now that it has been fixed.
“The bleachers were bolted when the divider was broken. The bleachers will be unbolted,” the DOE said.
The problem with the bleachers extends back at least into last year, but parents also say the principal has tried to play down the role of sports at the school to get students to concentrate on graduating in four years.
But students and coaches said that they could not see how home basketball games could happen since the majority of Public School Athletic League games are scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays and teams are only allowed to use the gym Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
“We still have to schedule every game on the road until we get some clear-cut evidence that we can play at home,” said Aaron Jenkins, 25, the school’s assistant volunteer boys basketball coach.
Jenkins said that last year the boys basketball team played only three of their games at Van Buren and the girls played just one at home.
The boys’ basketball players “fought all season long, and they earned at least one home playoff game. They still weren’t able to play it at home. They had to go all the way to Brooklyn,” Jenkins said.
Wong, a Springfield Gardens resident, said her mother drove her to all of her games away from the school last year.
“It was a lot of work,” she said.
And if Wong’s parents had wanted to watch her in action during that lone home game, they would have had no place to sit since the bleachers had been bolted shut.
Jenkins, a former Van Buren student himself, said the atmosphere at the school has degenerated from his days there 10 years ago.
“Morale is extremely low between teachers and students, all across the school. It’s a real shame. I used to go to Van Buren. We had so much school pride. We had kids there [at games] and cheerleaders.”
St. Albans resident Diane Payne, whose daughter plays for the girls basketball team, said that the problems with the gym were brought up with Van Buren’s principal, Marilyn Shevell, at the most recent PTA meeting last week.
“Her edict is to get students through that school in four years. It’s not a train station. It’s a school,” Payne said.
“I don’t understand why is has to be so difficult for them to have sports in their school.”
Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4589.