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Out on a Limb: Athletics in the crosshairs at BCHS

John Embry

High school athletics has been a hot topic the last few days following a proposal put forth by BCHS Principal Patrick O'Driscoll, a former coach himself, and approved by the school's SBDM council.  To combat budget woes, the measure would eliminate seven athletic teams at the school, as well an assistant coach from each remaining one and rein in transportation costs.  Needless to say, a proposal of this sort was met with much skepticism and criticism from many in the community.  But, my comments this week are not necessarily directed at the specifics of the plan to eliminate these programs.  To do so, in my opinion, would be to miss the broader picture.  Perspective, I believe, is what we need here.  

For starters, this debate isn't a personal one and the people involved in it aren't malicious.  Neither the SBDM members nor Mr. O'Driscoll have a personal vendetta against athletics.  They are simply trying to make difficult decisions when confronted with a potentially challenging situation, which is not having enough money to do everything you want to do.  This is important to remember even if you strongly agree or disagree with the plan put forward. Private businesses face budget decisions like these regularly.  For them it's just part of doing business.  To put it bluntly, debates like these are about policy and priorities, not personalities.  Thus, if you're interested in engaging in this debate then I encourage you keep your focus there instead of getting mad at one side or the other, or at the ones doing the reporting.  I truly believe that all sides in this debate are wanting to do what it is the best interest of the most students.  Honest, sincere people can disagree on what that is but their intentions are well-meaning.

Of the many comments we've received on BTN, one from Kathy Porter probably cut to the heart of this debate:  "No one wants to cut sports programs in our school system, but if it comes down to cutting sports or academics - it must be sports."

Mr. O'Driscoll and the SBDM council say these cuts will save about $46,000 - enough to save a teacher - and perhaps an academic program.  

I don't think anyone disagrees with Kathy's statement or with the rationale used by Mr. O'Driscoll and the SBDM council in supporting this plan.  It makes sense.  Skeptics just simply do not believe the premise.  The rub is that many folks in this community, at this point in the debate, do not buy into this "either/or" notion that if you don't make these specific, rather drastic athletic cuts then teaching jobs are lost and academics goes down the tubes at the high school.  Eliminating entire athletic programs that directly impact students should be among the last possibilities after all other options are weighed and duly considered.  Strong supporters of Butler County athletics are not anti-academic.  Neither are they stupid.  If this truly is the only option, after long and careful financial deliberations where budgeting is examined, discussed, and prioritized district-wide, then they will support it.  We're not there yet.  

Comments and questions that I've heard after this proposal was made public properly captures the sentiment of many in the community:

1.  Look for savings at the top of the educational structure in Butler County first before doing away with athletic programs that impact students.

2.  How much money is the school district spending on drug testing students and employees?  Wouldn't it be better to use this money to support athletic programs themselves rather than drug-testing athletes?

3.  What is the staffing plan and student-teacher ratio at the high school?  Is the school, according to state guidelines,understaffed, overstaffed, or staffed appropriately?  What impact would a 7-period school day have on the schedule, quality of education, budget?

4.  Can't the district save a considerable amount of money on transportation costs since many student-athletes routinely ride home with parents after contests instead of riding the bus?  Can parents even provide transportation on short trips to surrounding counties?  Can more contests be scheduled against geographically closer opponents, thus minimizing travel? 

5.  Is it possible that some athletic programs can be put on a path to greater financial self-sufficiency through a more efficient use of gate and concession proceeds, thus reducing their dependence on the school? 

 

These are just a few of the ideas I've heard discussed over last 48 hours.  Are all feasible?  Perhaps not but many folks feel ideas like these should be part of a thorough financial discussion.  Heck, I've even heard some utter the dreaded "T" word, indicating that the property tax rate at the local level should be increased slightly to give the school district some much-needed financial breathing room.  

I have my own opinion on many of these topics and will likely be sharing them with readers.  One point I will make now is that I disagree with the designation that participation in an athletic program is strictly "extra-curricular," while other programs in the school are considered "co-curricular."  That designation, in my opinion, is an arbitrary one.  Yeah, I know it's supported by convoluted state law pertaining to education but the implication is that sports participation has little or no academic value.  I don't believe that.  Strong athletic programs teach, among other things, character, leadership, discipline, hard work, goal-setting,  perseverance through adversity, relationship building, teamwork - all valuable and practical skills needed for a successful life. 

As this debate moves forward, let me restate again how important it is to keep focused on the issue itself (i.e what is in the best interest of the most students) and not on the individuals involved.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. O'Driscoll, each member of the school's SBDM council, Superintendent Scott Howard, and members of the Board of Education - all of whom either already have or may have to ultimately weigh in on this issue.  In the meantime, let's all take a deep breath and relax as various options are considered over the coming months. 

Independence Day Update:  I had a good weight-loss week.  My Sunday morning weight was 236.6 - which is a loss of a little over five pounds this week.  I had a few challenges but was able to work through them.  Mid-week I had a terrible craving for Pringles.  I bought some.  Then, I methodically ate only ten chips and washed them down with a bottle Evian.  That's the type of discipline that I must maintain in order to achieve my goal.  Target:  229 by March 1.    

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John Embry is the author of Out on a Limb.  He is the co-founder and vice-president of Beech Tree Media (www.beechtreenews.com and Beech Tree 1570 AM WLBQ).  John teaches American History (8th Grade) at Butler County Middle School and is the head softball coach at BCHS and BCMS.  He is married to Beth and they have one daughter, four-year-old Isabella Faye.  They live in Aberdeen - site of the original "beech tree." He can be reached at [email protected].     

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