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School Administrators: Consider the ‘Cost’ Before Cutting Athletics Programs

By Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald on March 12, 2018 hst Print

Superintendents are well aware that they live on the edge. Bad weather or major budget cuts spell trouble. While most have learned that they have no control over the weather and only minimal influence over the legislature and the budget, school boards and the community tend to hold administrators responsible for both. What superintendents do control is where the money is spent within their districts.

In Delaware, the governor called for “Shared Sacrifice” and “talked tax hikes along with spending cuts in the state government – including schools.” Superintendents were faced with a “Herculean task” after last year’s cuts. Unfortunately, over the past few years most superintendents have had to make difficult decisions involving budget reductions. With an election year looming, education once again appears to be on the chopping block, and after multiple years of budget reductions, many superintendents have nothing left to cut except people or programs.

When faced with making cuts, the goal of every superintendent is to lessen the impact of any budget cut on “the classroom.” Attention then focuses on what is perceived as “non-instructional” programs, which for too many means cutting athletics, and every superintendent must do what is best for his or her district.

Districts with vibrant Boys and Girls Clubs, community recreational programs, the YMCA or other opportunities may be able to make the argument that middle school students will still have the opportunity to participate. However, the existence of club or AAU programs could make some or all of their high school’s athletic programs susceptible to being eliminated.

While cutting athletics programs creates the potential for savings, what is the associated cost? The belief that athletics is “non-instructional” is a misnomer; and before making the decision to drop sports within a program, it is important to carefully look at the impact cutting education-based athletics would have on a school, a district or the community.

First and foremost, athletic programs provide each student-athlete with an identity and a purpose. Secondly, they are some of the most valuable at-risk programs that schools can offer. Lastly, they create a sense of pride for both the school and community.

Many believe that the purpose of education is to create good citizens and to prepare students with the skills necessary to succeed in an ever-changing global economy. A part of this premise is that school-based athletics, which is grounded in the values of good sportsmanship and fair play, is essential to developing the well-rounded citizen.

A school’s purpose must be to develop individuals who cannot only handle success and failure, but who understand how to work with others to achieve a common goal. This means developing the individual who loves to compete, but also appreciates the need for having a balance in his or her life. There is no better way to do this than through education-based athletics.

When you walk around school before the “big“ game, you feel the electricity. Also, listen to the discussions in the local coffee shop or school cafeteria. Nothing else has such a continual positive effect like high school athletics. This is true not only for the athlete, but for those in the band, on the cheer squad and even the elementary school students who seek role models.

Athletics also impacts the “invisible” student on the fringes of the school setting. This young person may not fit-in, struggling to find an identity, and may exist through the computer. He or she wants to belong, wants to learn to work with others, but hasn’t discovered his or her niche. While these students may never be standout players, by being a member of their high school team, they create connections and develop a purpose. Such opportunities just don’t exist for these students in the competitive pay-to-play world of club sports.

In times of programmatic cuts, athletics is a tremendous bargain. If utilized properly, high school athletics can also be a highly effective “at-risk” program. There are many examples of coaches having a greater influence on a student staying in school than any teacher or guidance counselor. For these students, athletics provides purpose and direction.

Many educational leaders would like to say that students see the intrinsic value of receiving a high school education. However, most teenagers’ minds just don’t work that way. They need to have a reason – one that is immediate and has an impact rather than a promise of a better life because they earned a diploma.

An additional component of education-based athletics is that educators see the value of sports in providing students with a caring and nurturing environment. The purpose is not built around the concept of developing professional athletes or winning championships – those things are by-products of what we do. The objective is to take student-athletes and make them better.

School-based athletics has immeasurable value and has repeatedly proven to be the heart and soul of a community. When tragedy hits, the athletic teams and student-athletes have demonstrated their resilience and have been the rock upon which the community has rebuilt or found solace. In times of financial challenges, what superintendent has not found athletics to be the rallying point needed to pass a levy? And what community doesn’t celebrate and take pride in their champions – both past and present?

As fiscal issues continue to dominate the front pages of our local papers, it is vital to remember that education-based athletics provides opportunities for students, communities and superintendents. With each challenge or cut, it’s important to keep in mind the words of former Chief Justice Earl Warren, when he spoke of the importance of athletics by saying “each morning I always turn to the sports pages first which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

School administrators would be wise to keep the doors of opportunity open for our young people to continue setting records and achieving goals through education-based high school athletics.

dent-athlete with an identity and a purpose. Secondly, they aresome of the most valuable at-risk programs that schools can offer.Lastly, they create a sense of pride for both the school and community.Many believe that the purpose of education is to create goodcitizens and to prepare students with the skills necessary to succeedin an ever-changing global economy. A part of this premiseis that school-based athletics, which is grounded in the values ofgood sportsmanship and fair play, is essential to developing thewell-rounded citizen.A school’s purpose must be to develop individuals who cannotonly handle success and failure, but who understand how to workwith others to achieve a common goal. This means developing theindividual who loves to compete, but also appreciates the need forhaving a balance in his or her life. There is no better way to do thisthan through education-based athletics.When you walk around school before the “big“ game, you feelthe electricity. Also, listen to the discussions in the local coffee shopor school cafeteria. Nothing else has such a continual positive effectlike high school athletics. This is true not only for the athlete, butfor those in the band, on the cheer squad and even the elementaryschool students who seek role models.Athletics also impacts the “invisible” student on the fringesof the school setting. This young person may not fit-in, strugglingto find an identity, and may exist through the computer. He or shewants to belong, wants to learn to work with others, but hasn’tdiscovered his or her niche. While these students may never bestandout players, by being a member of their high school team,they create connections and develop a purpose. Such opportunitiesjust don’t exist for these students in the competitive pay-to-playworld of club sports.In times of programmatic cuts, athletics is a tremendous bargain.If utilized properly, high school athletics can also be a highlyeffective “at-risk” program. There are many examples of coacheshaving a greater influence on a student staying in school than anyteacher or guidance counselor. For these students, athletics providespurpose and direction.Many educational leaders would like to say that students seethe intrinsic value of receiving a high school education. However,most teenagers’ minds just don’t work that way. They need to havea reason – one that is immediate and has an impact rather than apromise of a better life because they earned a diploma.An additional component of education-based athletics is thateducators see the value of sports in providing students with a caringand nurturing environment. The purpose is not built aroundthe concept of developing professional athletes or winning championships– those things are by-products of what we do. The objectiveis to take student-athletes and make them better.School-based athletics has immeasurable value and has repeatedlyproven to be the heart and soul of a community. Whentragedy hits, the athletic teams and student-athletes have demonstratedtheir resilience and have been the rock upon which the communityhas rebuilt or found solace. In times of financial challenges,what superintendent has not found athletics to be the rallying pointneeded to pass a levy? And what community doesn’t celebrate andtake pride in their champions – both past and present?As fiscal issues continue to dominate the front pages of ourlocal papers, it is vital to remember that education-based athleticsprovides opportunities for students, communities and superintendents.With each challenge or cut, it’s important to keep in mindthe words of former Chief Justice Earl Warren, when he spoke ofthe importance of athletics by saying “each morning I always turnto the sports pages first which records people’s accomplishments.The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”School administrators would be wise to keep the doors of opportunityopen for our young people to continue setting recordsand achieving goals through education-based high school athletics.