Joel Reichenberger: Sports financing issues a headache
April 22, 2013
Steamboat Springs — If there's an easy solution to Steamboat Springs High School's sports budget crises, no one seems to be close to finding it.
So many of the proposals floated seem nonsensical, and I wish I could offer better options. But I can't.
Take, for instance, one idea mentioned in the latest round of options to be considered by the School Board. It would cut the cheerleading season in half, eliminating either the fall or winter seasons. You'd still have to buy uniforms and pom-poms, and the cheerleaders already are working for free. How much can cutting their hours help? Apparently $1,800 by estimates, or 12 percent of the program's $14,440 cost for the 2011-12 school year.
Does cutting cheerleading by 50 percent to save 12 percent make much sense?
The speech team clearly is on the chopping block, at a savings of $3,500.
Many of these activities have people to speak for them. Allow me to speak for the speech team: I was in debate and forensics in high school. Nothing before or since has so taxed both sides of my brain, from the cold facts, fast thinking and critical reasoning of debate to the creative joy of forensics. I can't imagine anything outside of teaching reading, writing and 'rithmetic more central to a school's role.
Then again, there were just nine students on the team a year ago.
How about skiing? Elements of that argument make sense. Skiing is a funny sport at the high school level, competitive but a purposefully light-hearted alternative to more traditional ski racing. The goal is to enjoy racing, not groom the next Lindsey Vonn.
That's a great message, but what's a program built around a great message worth? Is that worth the $6,025 that would be saved by cutting the ski team? I don't know.
You could cut girls lacrosse. It's the newest varsity program, and it was one of the weakest teams on the field a year ago, going winless.
Finally an easy decision, right?
Not quite. Doing that after watching the team progress through the last two seasons would be nearly criminal. No coach works harder for a program than Betsy Frick has in building the girls lacrosse program, and that work is now manifesting itself both on the roster and in the win column.
If going winless gets one included, the football team is on the block, as well, and it's the second most expensive program, at $35,998 per year.
Of course, cutting football is unthinkable.
Track and wrestling are two of the smallest programs in terms of participation, with 17 and 12 competitors, respectively. The school has proud traditions of success in both sports, however, and both carry a rather light footprint financially speaking, coming in among the cheapest sports, costing $12,758 and $11,803.
There, again, you have strong coaches who have worked hard to keep their programs alive.
How about the sports that have raided the wrestling and track teams of many of their athletes — hockey and boys lacrosse? They are first and third in terms of expense, at $39,520 for hockey and $25,201 for lacrosse. They're among the most successful programs at the school, however, and the most popular for players and fans. Home dates for both tend to fill the stands.
So, what's left? As far as I can tell, it's either 210 bake sales and car washes or some very difficult decisions.
Could you cut golf, which at $1,140 per golfer is the second highest sport in terms of cost-per-participant? Maybe. If you cut football, Steamboat teens have no other outlet to play the sport. Cutting golf may mildly cut back on the athletes' annual rounds.
Does the Constitution even allow cutting baseball, even if the team can play a home game only about once a decade?
One of the two proposals right now would add fees while cutting speech and half the cheerleading season. The other would do away with track, golf, skiing and baseball.
Both options are difficult to imagine.
I wish I could provide a conclusion here, but debate didn't teach me how to tell 20 baseball players that their sport doesn't fit in at 7,000 feet. I don't know how to explain to the two dozen dedicated track athletes that even though their sport is about as simple as it gets, it's too expensive. I can't describe Ski Town USA without a fun-first high school skiing team.
There are difficult decisions to be made, and no matter how this goes, it won't make much sense.