Despite agreement, WHS yet to practice
School district, Vail Resorts, Inc. inked deal Jan. 5
By Jeremy Evans
Tribune staff writer
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Whittell High School Alpine ski team hosted a Tahoe Basin Ski League slalom race at Heavenly Mountain Resort. And for the second straight season, it was the first time the Warriors had raced gates on their home course.
“We haven’t practiced gates at all this season,” Natalie Rastello, one of Whittell’s top skiers, said after the race. “I don’t know if it’s something we did or if it’s something at Heavenly. I’m just not sure. It would be nice to do a bit of gate training.”
This situation wasn’t supposed to happen again, not after a year of wrangling ended last month between Douglas County School District and Vail Resorts, Inc., Heavenly’s parent company.
So Rastello brings up a solid debate because it’s not Heavenly’s fault, judging by several responses by officials connected to the situation. But the question is why after both parties worked so hard to get a deal done are the Warriors still not practicing gates?
To answer that question requires going back to last year.
During the 2004-05 school year, the school district and Heavenly couldn’t reach an agreement over liability and insurance assumptions concerning the team’s usage of the resort. So for the first time in recent memory, Whittell wasn’t allowed to practice at Heavenly.
After lengthy discussion on both sides, the dispute was resolved on Jan. 5, 2006, when a new agreement was signed by Heavenly Chief Operating Officer Blaise Carrig and Douglas County School District Director of Business Services Rick Kester.
“After going back and forth on issues, we sent them on Jan. 5, with Blaise’s signature, the final contract,” said Russ Pecoraro, Heavenly’s communications director. “In that contract, it stipulated a ton of dates where they were allowed to practice. We felt like we did everything we could do. We felt like the ball was in their court.”
Although Kester didn’t reveal details about the school district’s or Heavenly’s liability and insurance assumptions, he confirmed this week that he signed the contract and that it included available practice dates for the team. After Kester signed the final contract, he faxed a copy to Whittell High School Vice Principal Ed Perkins.
“We were happy to reach the agreement and it was one that we think was reasonable to both parties,” Kester said. “There would be no reason why Whittell wouldn’t have a copy of the agreement. There is nothing more the school district can do now.”
Here’s where it gets interesting.
At the league slalom race at Heavenly on Jan. 24, Whittell co-coaches Lynn MacKelvie and Bob Daly were told by the resort’s race department that they could practice gates and asked them the dates they wanted to practice. According to MacKelvie and Daly, that was the first time they had been told by anyone at either Heavenly or the school district they were allowed to practice gates.
“It was my understanding from the beginning of the year that we couldn’t practice,” said Daly, who was hired in the fall. “I didn’t know an agreement had been reached on Jan. 5. I had never heard that date before. At the race was the first time I heard we could practice.
“To be honest with you, we went into the Christmas holiday thinking it wasn’t resolved. I was asking a lot about it leading up to the season, but I stopped asking. I just figured we wouldn’t be able to practice gates like last season.”
The Heavenly Race Department was made aware by Carrig of the agreement that was signed last month. Workers there were simply waiting for Whittell to inform them of when they had to set up gates for the Warriors.
“We’re just waiting for the word from Bob Daly,” said race administrator Linda Killebrew. “We haven’t gotten anything from them.”
Adding to the difficulty on the Whittell side was that current athletic director Steve Maltase took over Joey Davis during Christmas break and was still getting acclimated to his new job when the agreement was reached. Maltase didn’t feel comfortable commenting on the situation because he didn’t know enough about it.
So the likely culprit is poor communication at Whittell.
Perkins didn’t respond to an E-mail sent by the Tribune on Tuesday asking if he had informed coach Daly about the possible dates, which were outlined in the contract. While Perkins didn’t respond, the important thing is Whittell will hold its first practice soon at Heavenly.
Daly told the Tribune on Wednesday that the team will practice gates for the first time this season on Monday. The Warriors currently are showing up at Heavenly and using their season passes to freeski together.
Once the skiers meet at the base of Gunbarrel between 2:30-3 p.m., MacKelvie and Daly take attendance before the athletes usually scatter.
“It’s difficult to keep track of all of them when we don’t have a focal point or some place to practice,” Daly said. “Since we are both off-campus coaches and not at school, communication is really difficult. That doesn’t mean we can’t be better at it because we will be in the future.
“I’m just looking at it as an honest mistake and we’re moving on. We’re going to practice on Monday and that’s the most important thing.”
After today’s giant slalom race at Alpine Meadows, the season will be half completed.
Whittell hasn’t finished higher than fourth in the six-team team standings in any of the three previous races.
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