Some middle school sports spared
by Staff Writer
by Tori Hamby
Some middle school athletes will take to the field next year after Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced plans last week to partially fund its sports program using middle and high school sports participation fees from last year.
However, some low-participation sports, such as baseball and soccer, remain on the chopping block for next year.
“The clear No. 1 determining factor for choosing which sports to keep was participation,” said school board member Rhonda Lennon, who represents north Mecklenburg County and has taken the lead in the fight to keep middle school sports. “Out of the 29 middle schools, the district looked at how many fielded a basketball or football team. Teams that did not have 100 percent participation were the first to be up for elimination.”
Sports that will be funded next year include football, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls track and field and cheerleading for football and basketball. This means that both Bailey and Bradley middle schools could still lose softball, girls and boys soccer and baseball teams. Bailey could also lose a golf team.
Lennon added that Title IX, a federal law that requires athletic programs receiving federal funds to provide equal participation opportunities to men and women, helped direct the district’s decision. Sports that brought out the greatest number of fans also got priority.
“While there are actually more teams for girls, you have about 45 players on a football team,” Lennon said. “There’s not a girls team that uses 45 players. The district had to balance the numbers.”
Last year, the district started a pay-for-play system, which charged middle and high school athletes $50 and $100 participation fees, as a way to fund the program after Superintendent Peter Gorman’s 2010-11 budget did not include money for middle school athletics. Hefty contributions from Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who donated $250,000, and other donors also helped keep the program afloat.
During budget talks earlier this year, district officials once again announced elimination of middle school sports from the athletic department’s budget. Funds collected through participation fees, the $1 surcharge on high school ticket sales and community donations would go to high school programs.
The use of leftover participation fees prompted some to say the district exaggerated the threat to middle school athletics to create public sympathy. Earlier this year, Mecklenburg County gave the district an extra $26 million to offset its budget gap.
Lennon said she wishes the district had made the decision to fund middle athletics sooner but understands the program’s budget has little wiggle room for mistakes.
“If the district had announced plans to continue middle school sports earlier and the money wasn’t there, they would have been in trouble,” Lennon said. “I think they were afraid to make an official decision before all the books and receipts for the end of the year.”
A memo sent to middle school principals throughout the district instructed schools to:
• Hire athletic directors and coaches. These staff members tend to be 10-month teachers who receive coaching stipends. Some do not teach and receive only stipends.
• Update the school website no later than July 14. The website should list only the sports to be offered next year.
• Send a message to families concerning the changes using ConnectED, an educational social networking tool, on Wednesday, June 29.
• Include a letter to parents detailing changes in back-to-school materials.
More news to come
Lennon and sports publisher Tripp Roakes created the Student Athlete Foundation of Mecklenburg County to help raise money to save middle school sports. The foundation plans to make an announcement Friday, July 1, about funding sources for middle school sports. Check the Herald Weekly website, www.huntersvilleherald.com, for updates.