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.