Impending Buyout Prompts Suspension Of Picher Athletics

Monday, June 26th 2006, 11:33 am
By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) -- With an impending buyout of homes in the Tar Creek Superfund site in northeast Oklahoma, the Picher-Cardin school board approved a measure to suspend the school's athletic programs for the 2006-2007 athletic year.

Board members cited low pre-enrollment numbers and lack of interest among students returning in the fall.

The announcement in May of the $20 million buyout plan prompted many student-athletes to move or transfer to surrounding districts. The board projected the high school, which enrolled more than 100 students last year, would experience at least a 50 percent decrease in the fall.

"When the last buyout announcement was made, we had coaches getting ready to take jobs elsewhere," said Picher baseball coach Travis Norwood, who already has accepted a coaching position at Northeastern A&M Junior College. "The students followed. There weren't enough kids to field any kind of athletic teams."

Details of the buyout have been slow coming since it was announced by state officials on May 4. Picher superintendent Robert Walker said that to apply for eligibility hardships, student-athletes couldn't afford to wait.

"We're leaving the door open for after 2006-07," Walker said. "But realistically, we're projecting that once the buyout begins, we probably won't have enough students to keep the school going."

In 2005, the Picher softball team made it to the Class A state tournament. Not one player from that team will return to Picher in the fall.

"It's sad that this is happening," Picher athletic director Jack Pace said. "But with this buyout coming, our athletes really don't have a choice but to move on."

A federal study released in January identified 176 residential structures in Picher, Cardin and Hockerville at some risk of collapse because of underground mines, prompting state officials to move forward with plans for a buyout.

The former lead and zinc mining hub has been on the Superfund list for two decades. Its 40 square miles in far northeastern Oklahoma's Ottawa County pose new hazards at every turn -- mine collapses, open mine shafts, acid mine water that stains Tar Creek orange and mountains of lead-contaminated mine waste.