Tough times make for tough decisions.
With high schools statewide facing budget cuts, coaches, administrators and athletes are waiting to see what the budget cuts for 2009-10 will mean to their sports.
Mike Colbrese, the executive director for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, asked the principals association if it wanted to reduce the number of games in all high school sports. The answer – at least for now – was no.
“The one comment I’m hearing consistently is we have a real strong support and we understand the value of after-school programs,” Colbrese said. “We’re going to do our best to maintain them.”
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To keep the athletic programs going, athletes and their families can expect to pay more to play. Some sports, especially the C teams, could have their schedules trimmed. Travel for all sports will be looked at, too.
The North Thurston School District is going to raise its pay-to-participate fee from $75 per sport to $100. The fee to play football will jump to $125.
“I don’t understand that at all,” said Rocky Patchin, head football coach at North Thurston High School. “We’ve never had a different cost from all the other sports before. It will have an impact.”
At North Thurston, 140 to 150 students turn out for football each year. That’s the largest turnout for any sport, already increasing football’s contribution to the budget, Patchin said.
“It just doesn’t seem fair,” he said.
The district has charged a participation fee for sports since a levy failed in 1994.
“We tell kids not to let that fee be a reason not to play,” Patchin said. “It’s going to force us to be a little more creative with our fundraising.”
In the Thurston District, the idea of cutting the C team and junior varsity games from eight to six has been floated.
Rich Yelenich is the new district athletic director, replacing Al Burmester. Yelenich, who was a vice principal at Timberline High School, also will be the principal of South Sound High School.
At Tumwater High School, athletic director Tim Graham has reduced travel costs with several changes. Golf teams now will play tri matches, reducing play to one match a week. Varsity boys and girls basketball games will be played at the same location instead of opposite sites, creating a doubleheader.
“We’re trying to save where we can,” Graham said. “We’ve tried not to eliminate programs. When you cut them completely, lots of times they don’t come back.”
Tumwater will reduce contests for its C teams by 25 percent and for its junior varsity programs by as much as 10 percent. No coaching positions are expected to be eliminated.
Tumwater does not have a pay-to-participate fee, at least not yet.
“I’m not saying (participation fees) won’t happen,” Graham said. “I’ve been a proponent for not having one. We haven’t talked about it yet. When the economy goes bad, it goes bad for everybody.”
In the Olympia School District, a middle school committee recommended reductions that would cut $61,000. Part of those recommendations include moving track from an interscholastic program to an intramural program and reducing the number of turnouts from five to four days a week.
“We’re waiting to see what the number amount of what the cuts would be and then we’ll make some recommendations,” said Jeff Carpenter, coordinator of health, fitness and athletics for the Olympia School District.
“We’ve had conversations with athletic directors and coaches. We’ve talked with other districts and what they’re doing. But no district has made a firm commitment yet.”
Carpenter didn’t rule out the prospect of cutting programs, depending on the size of the budget deficit. He said several districts are considering reducing their schedules, which could impact Olympia and Capital.
“It’s a snowball effect,” Carpenter said. “If, for example, Yelm and North Thurston reduce their number of basketball games, that impacts us. Who are you going to play?”
Carpenter said there might be reductions in programs, coaching positions and travel restrictions. However, the district is not expected to increase its pay-to-participate fee from $120 per sport.
Colbrese said the districts hardest hit are the Northwest leagues that run from Ferndale to Burlington-Edison and Sedro-Woolley. Those districts are considering a pay-to-participate fee for the first time. Most of the school districts across the state still have no such fee.
“Some of the smaller districts say … we’re passing levies with the understanding that the levy money is going to help fund our athletic programs,” Colbrese said. “If they were to go out and tack on a pay-to-play, voters would flip.”
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443