Our View: Leveling the playing field in tiered prep sports systems | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Leveling the playing field in tiered prep sports systems

The time has come for the Steamboat Springs School District to rid itself of an antiquated tiered sports system. We think such a change is possible with collaboration and funding from the district, the Education Fund Board, the Steamboat Booster Club, community supporters and the families of student-athletes.

High school officials said it will cost about $67,500 to move all of the school's sports programs to Tier 1. That figure includes an estimated $30,000 in transportation costs for the sports teams. Given the proven benefit extracurricular activities like sports play in the academic and social lives of students, the community's passion and commitment to athletic endeavors and the inequities fostered in the existing tiered system, it's hard to think a solution can't be determined in time for the 2013-14 academic year.

First, a brief history is in order. The tiered system began in 1974 when a group of parents started a club cross-country team. The School Board allowed it as long as it didn't financially impact the high school or the district. The boys soccer team started the same way in the mid-1980s, and the district began labeling those add-on sports as "Tier 2" in the early 1990s. 

As recently as the 2007-08 school year, Tier 2 sports were self-funded, and parents drove student-athletes to and from games. But to avoid liability issues with travel, the district began to fund transportation costs, as well as some coaches' salaries. Tier 2 sports include baseball, cheerleading, golf, hockey, lacrosse, Alpine and Nordic skiing, tennis and wrestling. Tier 1 sports are basketball, cross-country, football, soccer, speech, track and field and volleyball.

Student-athletes in Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports now pay $150 participation fees and $30 transportation fees. But Tier 2 sports' student-athletes have additional operating costs to cover, such as coaches salaries, game officials fees and equipment and uniform purchases. To fully fund all sports, the district would need to come up with $37,500 to provide operating budgets for programs currently designated Tier 2 and an additional $30,000 to make up its estimated sports transportation budget shortfall.

In a presentation to the School Board last week, high school Principal Kevin Taulman and Athletics Director Luke DeWolfe provided four options: keep the status quo; make all sports Tier 1 and shift more costs to the district; make all sports Tier 2 and shift more costs to athletes and their families; or cut athletic programs.

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We think there's a compromise solution that can be sustainable for the district. Make all sports Tier 1, consider a modest increase in the participation and/or transportation fees, closely monitor all athletic programs in terms of participation levels and work with the Education Fund Board, the Booster Club and other community supporters on funding mechanisms to help the district deflect some of the cost of fully funding all sports.

Consider for a moment that an estimated 85 percent of the high school's students participate in extracurricular activities and that during the 2011-12 school year, there were 289 athletes playing Tier 1 sports and 259 athletes playing Tier 2 sports (some students play multiple sports). We respect the difficult balancing act of keeping activities affordable for families and not compromising other important school and district budget areas. But we also know sports are incredibly beneficial inside and outside the classroom to many student-athletes and that the overall cost to dump the archaic tiered system is manageable. It's time for a permanent solution.

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