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Let Them Play Sports at Tech Schools

Sports columnist says there is no better investment than one that rewards kids looking to stay active and become more involved in their community.

This is what I want for Labor Day. Yes, I’m asking for a Labor Day present, but it’s not for me.

What I want is for every person who says they support smaller government to visit Cheney Tech and sit down with Katie Sirois, Paige Marshall and Jackie Ellis and explain why their softball team doesn’t matter as much as the one at Manchester High School.

The state budget has been the story of the summer. The combat between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state labor unions has dominated newspapers and news Web sites. It would be nice if sports were cocooned from these bitter disputes but they are not.

The news this week was about a deal to restore fall sports at vocational and technical schools throughout the state. Winter and spring sports remain in limbo pending a second bite/force feeding of the concessions apple for state employees.

The news for towns is no better. Pay for play is a reality in many towns whose funding has been strangled by taxpayers demanding budget increases that do not even match inflation to say nothing of the actual increase in costs towns face because of our runaway healthcare system.

At the heart of these disputes is a basic question: Who are we?

Are we a people who will slash away at funding for kids who want to represent their school community – who want to become more involved – so that we can save every last dollar we have? Are we a people willing to tell a kid he can’t play sports for his school because he wants to be an electrician instead of an insurance claims adjuster? Are we willing to tell young Johnny he can’t play sports because he wants to be a mechanic? Will we tell him this before or after we ask him about that pinging sound we hear on the freeway? Are we a people who will tell families they have to fork over $500 or $1,000 a year so that their kids can become more involved in their school by playing soccer and basketball?

The answer, sadly, it seems is yes. This is exactly who we are.

If the Greatest Generation was built on sacrifice and the notion that we should leave our children a better world than the one we received, the generations which have followed have been more like locusts, descending on a green, fertile valley and stripping it clean.

Now we are complaining because it’s time to plant again.

A good question to ask anyone who says, “I was at Woodstock,” is “Did you stick around for cleanup?” The Xers – and this me – have been no better. We were merely absorbed into the boomer’s breast, somewhat sullenly because of our weariness over having to once again listen to a story about watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

All of us claim to be in favor of shared sacrifice so long as it starts with Paige Marshall and her teammates. Oh, and that guy right over there. He looks like he can pay a little more, too. Yes, for us the buck stops one street over and two doors down at the yellow house with the swimming pool.

The need for access to high school sports has never been more acute. Health experts are warning of a looming obesity epidemic and the alternative to high school sports, which exist within an educational framework, is the largely ungoverned world of AAU and travel teams, where parents need to hope the ethics of the coach match their own.

Each year there is new research suggesting coaches need to be trained to recognize medical conditions like concussions and dehydration. High schools are the only place where this training is mandated.

Each day it becomes clearer that our sons and daughters need people who can serve as role models and who have sports placed on the proper shelf of life. People who understand that football is a game and not an epic struggle between the forces of good and those who will burn our crops and setup tolls on our highways. Many fine ethical coaches exist in the AAU world but many are simply in it for a buck.

We can’t simply cut your way out of the financial problems that exist in our state. We have to make investments in the future, too. For my money, there is no better investment than one that reward kids looking to stay active and become more involved in their community. We are, essentially, talking about $2 from every taxpayer in the state to keep the vo-tech sports programs running.

In towns, the sacrifice is larger but still worth it. In some towns, the increase needed to remove pay-for-play policies would coast each taxpayer as much as $30 a year. This is what we are unwilling to give up for the next generation.

Times are hard. Three years ago, I made $60,000 and had no kids. These days I make half that much and have two. But if it costs me $32 a year so kids in our state can play high school basketball for free, well, that’s an easy call.

Amy Carlone Cote August 08, 2011 at 01:10 PM
What a great article. It sums up everything I've been feeling and saying very neatly. Shame on all of us for not looking a bit more toward the future.
John M. Joy August 08, 2011 at 02:39 PM
Sorry for raining on the parade (yet again), but... The bottom line is, we're talking about someone's HOBBY here. A RECREATIONAL activity. No, it isn't right taking money at gunpoint (and, lest we forget, that's what taxes are) to fund a pastime.
kathy johnson August 08, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Amy, I agree this is a great article. We are a spoiled group. As one of the first of the baby boomers I am proud that we were among the first to question our government but many times we are also the first to consume all that is offered to us. No man is an island unto himself unless you just want to live in a cave and eat insects. I believe that vocational schools should offer sports but it is up to the parents to vote for the education budget and be willing to pay higher taxes. If all the parents of every school age child came out and voted and united they could save these programs but the fact is that most of them do not vote and most vote their pocket books. Everyone want's something for nothing.
Paul Singley August 08, 2011 at 07:45 PM
While I realize sports are considered "hobbies," I think they teach kids so much more than how to hit a ball or run faster. For me, sports taught me the value of hard work, the importance of working well with others, even those whom I wouldn't necessarily talk to off the field, and kept me concentrating on my studies because that was the only way I was able to play (the school's rules were you couldn't fail a class, but my parents' rule was I couldn't get Cs in order to keep playing, which I now realize was for the best). And when I played football my freshman year of college, the coaches made us go to study hall for two hours a night, which set the stage for a successful academic performance in college even if my college sports career didn't go too well and I never came close to going pro. Sports also led me to meet many great sports writers, who inspired me to go into sports journalism; that eventually led me to school for communications, then grad school for journalism, then into this. And while this isn't going to make me monetarily rich, it's is where I've earned enough to buy a house and is how I met my wife. So I guess it could be said I have sports to thank for my wife and child :). While that may be a stretch, it is not to say that I don't know where I would have been without the values and lessons I learned on the field. I would to hate to think that another student would not have the opportunities I did to have sports help him or her build a foundation for life.
John M. Joy August 08, 2011 at 08:16 PM
That's all fine and dandy, but... why does ANY of that need to be funded at gunpoint (i.e. via taxes)? When I was in high school, I had two principal after-school activities: ironically, the first was with the local emergency services, thereby providing a VALUE to the taxpayers; the second was in the martial arts, at a local school for which we (my family and I) paid ourselves. You speak of an incentive to study based on your parents' rules about grades and participation. How would that be any different if you were in a private, non-tax-funded activity? As for college... by then you should, as an adult, be able to provide your own incentives. Mine was simple: doing well in a place where the tuition was very, very expensive, but the better part of which they were graciously waiving for me. This isn't to say that activities aren't valuable. (Even as I was working my behind off in college - even finishing a year early! - I was an officer of a major student organization.) They have their use, but for all but a tiny minority, it is as a hobby - an enriching hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. The US is about to enter a very dark place - economic and otherwise - so now more than ever perspective is needed. Perhaps what's called for isn't a vast array of "canned" (programmed and tax funded) activities, but for young people to develop and showcase their individuality and creativity. People need to learn to do things themselves, because soon, they're going to have to.
Paul Singley August 08, 2011 at 08:26 PM
That's fine. Everybody has their own experience. I'm a taxpayer, too, and understand taxes are high; lawmakers need to find places to cut. I personally just think that sports is an extension of education and should be offered to everyone, even if it costs us a little more or if we have to sacrifice elsewhere. While you participated in a sport where you could find a private organization that offered you an opportunity, there are no private agencies that offer high school-level football or several other sports for kids. And in towns like the one I grew up in, Naugatuck, there are not many emergency service organizations to volunteer for (paid fire, paid ambulance, etc.), but our teams volunteered for the community in several other ways. I realize there is disagreement on this, which is what makes it a good column, and I respect the other train of thought. I just say I don't want to see kids lose opportunities, no matter the cost. (P.S. I kept a college bill on me at just about all times in school to remind myself how expensive it was, so I hear ya' on that. I'm sure that was part of what drove me. I teach at a community college and never understood when students don't take it seriously, if only for the money they are wasting.)
John M. Joy August 08, 2011 at 08:42 PM
There are no (or very few) private opportunities for those sports because the schools are "crowding out the market" by essentially monopolizing them. The emergency service organization for young people here in Oxford back then was Explorer Post 188, out of the Quaker Farms Fire Company. My father was one of the firemen who helped get it started, and while I can't claim founding membership, I joined as soon as I could, the following year, I believe it was. We were trying to put something new together in order to have a feeder program into the fire service, and had some success doing so. We also had to be creative about funding, hosting fundraisers (pancake breakfasts, for instance) when we needed uniform money. Incidentally (and speaking of teaching at a community college): I've taught in that environment, as well as at two Big Ten universities and an elite New England engineering college. I found that the community college students I taught were MORE likely to take it seriously. Then again, they were principally "non-traditional" students, working while going to school part-time, and seeking to get a degree to work their way into a better job, thus they had plenty of "skin in the game" as it were.
Paul Singley August 08, 2011 at 08:50 PM
I agree that most community college students take it seriously, more so than many of the private college students I've seen. That's part of the reason I get so angry when people don't take it seriously, because so many others do. And I never thought about the fact that schools have a monopoly on the sports market; it's a good point.

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