Dr. James Phares, superintendent of Randolph County schools, spoke about the challenges the school system has faced recently during Monday's Elkins Rotary Club meeting.
Phares summed up the past month's events - including the Elkins High School football ineligibility ruling, a tragic death at Tygarts Valley High School and Superstorm Sandy - which engulfed the lives of students, parents, teachers and administrators alike. Phares had only praise for those who weathered their respective storms.
"What a wonderful place we live in," he said, telling Rotarians about how community members have been looking out for each other.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Casey Houser
Dr. James Phares, superintendent of Randolph County Schools, speaks about Superstorm Sandy and the impact it had on the community during Monday’s Elkins Rotary Club meeting.
Phares first discussed the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission ruling that initially resulted in the EHS football team's wins being stripped away.
"They made the decision, early on, that an individual wasn't eligible (to play)," he said.
Following the initial ruling, however, school officials didn't back down, Phares said.
They fought to make sure the ruling was corrected, he said, and they were able to convince the WVSSAC to overturn the ruling soon after.
The wins were reinstated and the student, star running back L.J. Lawrence, was declared eligible to play.
"The lesson I learned is this: if I can't stand up for one child, I can't stand up for all of them," Phares said.
While the WVSSAC ruling controversy was ongoing, a Tygarts Valley student was stabbed and died before the school's football game Oct. 26. Phares's job was to moderate the aftermath, he said.
"What I had to do was stand there and listen to the statements of witnesses," Phares said, noting how difficult the situation was for everyone on the scene.
Through the tragedy, however, Phares said he learned a lesson similar to what he learned following the WVSSAC ruling.
"If you don't stand up for kids today you won't get the chance to stand up for them tomorrow," he said.
He congratulated parents, school counselors and local religious officials who stepped up to console the grieving teenagers.
Phares was adamant about referring to them as kids.
"They look like adults, but they are really kids," he said, further emphasizing their fragile collective emotional state.
Phares finished his talk by discussing the local reaction to Superstorm Sandy.
He said he sat with National Guardsmen over the weekend and heard stories about their cleanup efforts. They talked about the "endless seas" of fallen pines, and they lamented the loss of those whose lives were taken in the storm's wake, he said.
"This one was much more difficult," Phares said, comparing Sandy to the destructive storm in June.
Phares ended his talk by congratulating everyone who volunteered at emergency shelters and those who provided assistance in a neighbor's time of need.
"Do the right thing," he said. "You are a product of the choices you make."