July 23, 2009

Cutting Sports Now, What's Next?

Marc Comtois

Faced with the cuts in sports funding, Woonsocket athletic director George Nasuti is taking a proactive approach in hopes of averting a similar situation that occurred nearly two decades ago when several sports programs were weakened and athletes fled to other schools. He called a meeting of athletes and parents:

"Either we work to fund this or we don't have it," [Nasuti] told the few hundred athletes, parents and coaches who gathered yesterday afternoon in the high school auditorium. "I want to move forward. I don't want to wait."

Everyone involved must be willing to roll up their sleeves and make some sacrifices, Nasuti told those in attendance.

That means coaches will work for free and parents and athletes will have to fund raise, volunteer at events and continue to lobby school officials and politicians.
"You have to step up and tell people why you need sports," he told the students, "and why you have a right to the same opportunities as students [in other communities].

"I'm afraid about the future, but I'm excited about moving forward," said Nasuti, who was encouraged by yesterday's turnout and also hopes some local businesses might be willing to contribute financially.

Sports and other activities like band or art are an important part of a well-rounded education and can help keep kids focused on their studies as time-management becomes crucial to success both on and off the field.
Among the athletes who attended, junior Katie Bijesse stood up and described how being a member of Woonsocket's girls soccer team that won the Division IV state championship last fall motivated her to get her grades up. She expressed her concern that the absence of sports will result in a higher dropout rate at the school, along with an increase in drugs, violence and teen pregnancies.

"Katie's played soccer probably since she was 6 years old. Soccer's her entire life. … It's kept her on the straight and narrow," said Janice Bijesse, adding that she and her husband may consider having their daughter transfer to Mount St. Charles if Woonsocket no longer has a soccer program. "I work with DCYF and I see what can happen if kids don't have activities after school, so for a lot of reasons [sports are] so important. Absolutely."

Studies show that teenage girls involved in athletics, for instance, are less likely to become pregnant than their peers while sports channel boys natural competitiveness and teach self-control.

I've been involved in non-school related youth sports for a few years and can attest to the hard work it takes to successfully run an all-volunteer league. I wish Woonsocket parents and athletes all the luck in the world. Their "team" approach seems more responsible than North Smithfield's "pay to play" scheme:

With what he described as a "heavy heart," Athletic Director Matthew Tek laid out for School Committee members on Tuesday Rhode Island's first comprehensive fee structure for school sports.

Committee members in turn voted unanimously to move ahead with a "pay-to-play" system that will save a quarter of the Athletic Department's budget while restoring junior varsity and middle school sports if all pending issues are resolved.

Under the plan as proposed, students who play sports will pay:

* $175 for a spring season

* $175 for a fall season, except football

* $300 to participate in football

* $175 for a winter sports season, except hockey

* $375 to participate in hockey

There's a maximum of $600 for any family with students playing school sports. That cap would increase to $900 if students participated in either football or hockey.

The fees would be due after a North Smithfield student makes a school team, and would add up to about $60,000 or more, said Tek.

Sports fees are nothing new in non-school sports. I'd imagine that, while painful, most parents will pay for their student-athletes to play. But what about the kids whose parents can't afford to "pay to play"? In non-school related leagues, such is the one in which I'm involved, scholarships or financial aid is made available to help out struggling families. I don't see such a provision in North Smithfield's new plan. That is too bad, because it is often participation in sports that keep poor or at risk kids in school. Hopefully some measures will be taken to help those kids out.

I wonder if fees for music or art will soon follow. Will the kids be required to buy their own paint or sheet music? And then what? Purchasing text books? As parents are asked to pay for more of the ancillaries of a supposedly free and public school system, how many kids will miss out because their parents can't afford it? Unless parents start to demand that politicians get smarter about managing the 80-90% (salaries, benefits) part of the budget that doesn't directly affect students--instead of cutting the 10% that does--they will continue to pay more to maintain the status quo, at best, in public education.

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I was one of those students who left WHS in 1991 when the sports programs were eliminated (I returned a few weeks later when the programs did). George Nasuti noted yesterday that this also happened in 1976 and that he hopes he isn't again fighting this same battle 15-20 years from now. At some point we have to realize that the state's Basic Education Program must include the opportunity for students to participate in such things as athletics and arts. As you said Marc, they are important to a well-rounded education, and I think a state mandate that does not require them to be provided simply does not require local districts to provide a well-rounded, or even adequate, education.

Posted by: Jon at July 23, 2009 1:23 PM

This is clearly not about the children. When students are put first in the education world, you will have buildings in good repair, up to date technology, sports, and arts. The overhead is too high. Vouchers are the answer. When you have accountability, there will be quality education.

Posted by: kathy at July 23, 2009 4:00 PM

Wait a minute, what happened to you Mad Hatter types? That's YOUR money! I checked my Heritage Foundation solicitation and found ZERO references to government run hockey. If those mini-socialists want sports, look not further than the views of the Founders:

As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion of your walks.

Thomas Jefferson, To Peter Carr, 1785

Posted by: Russ at July 24, 2009 8:54 AM

You must have a Sheldon Whitehouse version of the Constitution, which leaves out the Amendments. When you find a complete copy, check out the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and you'll see what I'm referring to.

Posted by: Andrew at July 24, 2009 9:30 AM

Gee Russ, I'd think you'd be opposed to these cuts too. If it does get to cutting Art class, where will kids learn to paint with the same broad brush you do?

Posted by: Marc at July 24, 2009 11:30 AM

now the department of education says rhode island law does not allow schools to charge for participation in sports.

Posted by: bill rappleye at July 24, 2009 12:52 PM

Bah, 10th Amendment! That's not how Jefferson would have had it (see Sixth Annual Message or Notes on the State of Virginia).

Posted by: Russ at July 24, 2009 2:42 PM

The historical angle is through the decades how much of school budgets have changed because of salaries and benefits of school staff, versus budget items such as school activities, books, etc., both numerically and percentage wise? Percentage wise in regards to both of the items increase and the increase/decrease also in the overall budget.
It would be obvious with increased staffing and benefits the overall costs of labor/personnel costs has risen both numerically in our school districts as well as percentage wise for labor costs and the labor costs percentage in the overall budget.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at July 24, 2009 4:43 PM

Oh, if only it were that only sports has been lost by the students in the Woonsocket schools. All extracurricular activities except for drama, band, chorus, yearbook, newspaper and the honor societies are gone. No debate, no math team, etc., etc.

The school department has not made any book purchases for five years in a row and now next year will make it six. Capital improvements have been cut to the bone such that only actively leaking roofs will be fixed (a violation of RIDE regulations regarding capital expenditure obligations) and walking distances will be increased with the possible elimination of all transportation for high school students, no matter the distance.

If it could be only sports.

Posted by: John at July 25, 2009 8:36 AM

School Committees are often or nearly always a problem. While it must be difficult to work with the unions. They can take a stand for both children and taxpayers. The enormous amount of school budgets going for staffing, unfunded mandates, staff salaries, and benefits need to be checked as much as legally possible!

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at July 25, 2009 11:56 AM

John, you're being unnecessarily pessimistic. All of those problems are going to be solved because the teachers are going to agree to work forty unpaid days.

Posted by: Monique at July 25, 2009 8:49 PM

Only a sucker works and doesn't get paid for it. Why work if you won't be paid?

Posted by: rhody at July 26, 2009 12:34 AM

Actually, Monique, these cuts are on top of the pay cut.

Without serious pay concessions from all school employees, this will certainly lead to a large supplemental tax bill.

We will have to hear the standing argument of compensation and benefit comparability when they say NO!

The General ASSembly needs to get off their asses and set the thresholds for pay and benefits so we won't ever have to listen to that crap again.

Posted by: John at July 26, 2009 11:08 AM

Why don't you add 40 extra days to your tax bill. This way you are doing the sacrificing instead of asking others to do it for you.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at July 29, 2009 11:09 PM

Pay as you go system.
Or cut football the Java the Hut of sports. Football eats all the money and nothing in return.
Total sport expediture divided by players, football could not support itself.
please read article.
I love the football people when cuts happens, let's rally to save the sports. Internal motive let's rally to save us. Eliminate football and this would not happen. Many Colleges have elinimate all other mens programs to keep football. Football is the nemis.

Posted by: Tex at July 30, 2009 8:07 AM
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