CUTLINE: Greenville-Weston boys soccer coach Thomas Giardino has a talk with his team during a recent practice. Giardino, a Seattle native, volunteered to coach the squad after $163,000 was cut from the athletic budget last summer.
Thomas Giardino is more than 2,400 miles away from home. And even if he could, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The Mississippi Delta was my first choice,” said the Seattle, Wash., native who is in his first year with the Teach for America program. He teaches English and theater at Greenville-Weston High School.
“Culturally, it’s about as far from Washington as you can get,” added Giardino. “But also the need is great here….And (Seattle) will be okay without me. They have plenty of people to teach English there.”
But what began as a plan to reach students inside the classroom has now stretched beyond his room’s four walls and onto the patch of grassy land behind the school’s football stadium where his boys soccer team practices after school.
Giardino, along with several other Greenville School District employees, have volunteered their time and effort to coach non-revenue producing sports at the school.
Six sports – baseball, slow-pitch softball, power-lifting, soccer, tennis and golf – were all suspended by the district this summer due to a $163,000 cut to the athletic budget.
The six sports have since been re-instated after the school’s newly constructed booster club raised over $70,000 to sustain them. The money, however, does not cover coaching supplements – only team expenses like equipment, uniforms and bus rides to away games.
So far, district volunteers have been approved for slow-pitch softball, boys and girls soccer, and baseball, according to Athletic Director David Barrow. The school plans to have volunteers in place for tennis, golf and power-lifting soon, he added.
Giardino, who played soccer for a club team at the University of Washington and also coached high school-level soccer in his hometown, said once he heard about the school’s financial dilemma, he jumped at the idea to volunteer coach.
But Giardino’s sacrifice comes at price – which he’s willing to pay. He estimates that he coaching duties account for nearly 18 hours weekly.
“I have to work long weekends to stay caught up,” said Giardino.
When most teachers are leaving the building, Giardino’s day is far from over. The team practices a couple hours Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings. After a recent weekday practice, he even volunteered more of his time to take four players home.
Superintendent Dr. Harvey Franklin said Giardino and the other volunteers are a vital asset to the district and the community.
“It shows you that we have a committed staff. They don’t want the students to lose out on what they enjoy,” said Franklin. “In the long run, everyone will benefit.”
David Barrow, the district’s athletic director, echoed Franklin’s statements.
“Without their volunteering, we wouldn’t have the sports happening right now,” he said. “And it’s even better that we have people who actually know about the sports instead of a warm body.”
Currently, Raymond Russell, Juliet Thomas and Lynette have volunteered to coach the slow-pitch softball team; Giardino and Marvin Griffin take care of boys soccer; Laura Jones leads the girls soccer team; and Kiever Campbell and Jeff Jones are volunteer assistants under baseball coach Charles Love, according to Barrow. Others have contacted Barrow about coaching the remaining sports, but the plans have not been finalized yet.
Russell, who volunteered to coach slow-pitch softball, said he signed up for the betterment of the community.
“I decided to do it because the community needed it,” said Russell, whose team has already wrapped up their 2010 season. “They needed all the help they could get – and I’m just trying to do my part.”
Giardino said his team consists of 22 players – some lack experience, but he’s there to show them the ropes.
“It’s an interesting process to teach them the game for the very first time,” said Giardino.
Griffin, who assists Giardino with the boys soccer program, has volunteered his services to GWHS for the last five years. He said Barrow approached him about volunteering for the district one Sunday while the two were playing recreational soccer at the Greenville Youth Soccer Association field.
"I do it because I really enjoy the sport and want to help the kids advance in the sport," said Griffin.
GWHS players aren’t the only ones thankful that the sport was saved from extension.
“It’s fun for me;” said Giardino. “It’s the best part of my day.”