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As Maine school districts face a decline in state subsidies and the same financial hard times being visited on all sectors of American society, the Maine Principals’ Association has taken it upon itself to propose across-the-board cuts in school athletics.
Among the measures being considered by the MPA are reducing the number of regular-season games that school teams play, cutting the number of teams that qualify for post-season tournaments, and limiting all teams to just two scrimmage, pre-season or holiday tournament games.
There is no merit to any of these ideas.
MPA Executive Director Dick Durost argues that “if we don’t do it, then superintendents and school districts are going to do it and they’re not going to be fair.”
But what’s fair about a statewide administrators’ organization deciding how local school districts spend their money? There is a misguided notion peculiar to educational administrators that fair means everybody gets treated the same. Fair means everybody gets what they need.
In the first place, cutting two games from every team schedule does not impact all teams the same. A high school team in rural northern Maine typically travels a lot farther to play its opponents than a high school team from greater Portland, incurring, in the process, larger fuel and labor costs.
Having spent parts of four days and $20 (not to mention $2.50 a day on fries) at the Portland Expo over the holidays watching schoolboy hoops at the Yankee Ford Holiday Classic, I have to wonder where the MPA gets off telling any school how many non-sanctioned games it can play? The Holiday Classic makes money for the Portland High School basketball program, allows teams to stay in game shape over the holiday break and to face different levels of competition. If a local school system decides it can’t afford the tournament, fine. No team is required to participate. But we don’t need the MPA telling a team, especially a team from a private school such as Cheverus, that it can only play two games outside of its conference schedule.
School districts have some tough decisions to make, but they should be allowed to make them for themselves. Though sports and the arts are often the first programs put on the chopping block when money gets tight, it’s entirely possible that a school system might find places other than sports to economize.
When athletic budgets do get cut, booster groups often step in to subsidize programs. In Yarmouth, where I live, I’d estimate that sports boosters already contribute more than $100,000 a year to high school athletics, raising tens of thousands of dollars to underwrite such things as travel and lift tickets for ski teams, ice time for hockey teams, assistant coaches for soccer teams, and the entire football team budget. We don’t need the MPA telling us what we can or can’t afford.
In the wake of the MPA’s proposed statewide cutbacks, there has been a lot of editorial and blog buzz about taking sports out of the schools and running them as community programs. Most communities already have intramural and travel teams for youngsters. And, truth be known, the best schoolboy and schoolgirl athletics are not school programs anyway. Student athletes don’t get recruited out of high school programs as much as they do by playing in off-season programs such as Legion baseball, AAU basketball and premier soccer leagues.
But nothing contributes quite so much to school pride and community identity as high school sports, so taking interscholastic athletic out of the schools isn’t likely to happen. It may well be time, however, to get the Maine Principals’ Association out of the school sports business. Mandating statewide cuts in athletic programs is a bad call and it’s not the MPA’s call to make.
The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s weekly personal look at the world around him. The opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Forecaster.