Prince George’s school board boosts sports programs

For the first time in two years, Prince George’s County middle school students will be able to participate in after-school sports and high school athletes will no longer be required to pay a $50 activity fee to play on school athletic teams.

The Prince George’s County Board of Education said it made the changes, which go into effect when school starts in late August, to promote healthier living. Middle school students will be able to play baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and, in some cases, run cross country this school year.

“We heard from the community and we heard from parents who felt our obesity rate is to the point where this is what our kids need,” Vice Chairman Carolyn M. Boston (District 6) said of the decision. “We didn’t want to stop it in the first place.”

The board approved the fee for high school junior varsity and varsity players in 2011 as a way to maintain the sports programs in the face of major budget cuts. That action came shortly after the board decided to halt middle school sports programs, also as a cost-saving measure.

The changes are expected to cost the school system $1.4 million a year, school officials said Tuesday.

“We always felt sports were a top priority,” Boston said. “I think we’re in a better position [financially] than we were in previous years.”

Parents, such as Deminea Johnson, of Suitland, said they were pleased with the move. Johnson said her son, a seventh grader at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, will be happy to know he will be able to play basketball after school this winter.

Others in the school community who have pushed for more athletic activity in schools said boosting the sports programs will help students who otherwise might not be occupied after school and could offer financial savings for Prince George’s families.

O’Shay Watson, the school system’s supervisor of athletics, said such sports programs provide students with an opportunity to participate in something that they like in a “supervised and orderly” environment.

Kennard Jones, president of the Thurgood Marshall Middle School PTA, said middle school-aged boys need “an outlet to keep them calm” and that organized sports is an excellent solution.

Jones said the board’s decision two years ago to charge a fee and do away with middle school sports forced some parents to pay more money for their middle school-aged children to play in leagues outside of school.

Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s), a former professional football player who has backed many state initiatives promoting athletics, including a failed effort this year to install turf athletic fields at all high schools, said he believes the decision is a move in the right direction and shows an investment in developing well-rounded children.

“If $50 was a hindrance on some parents, then we owe it to the students to do something about it,” Walker said. “We say we want to attack childhood obesity and promote physical fitness. Actions speak louder than words. The board is showing they are doing more than speaking.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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