Washington Area School Districts Face Cutbacks in Sports

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2009

At least three school jurisdictions in the Washington area are considering eliminating certain sports or reducing the number of athletic contests for the upcoming school year, and others are rethinking how they transport athletes to competitions as they adjust to a shortage of state funding. Some school systems might ask athletes to pay to compete in sports or increase pay-to-play fees that already exist.

Interviews with school administrators throughout the area showed that athletic departments in most jurisdictions are feeling the budget squeeze.

"It's tough all across the country," said Les Cummings, supervisor of athletics for Loudoun County public schools. "Being a part of a school system and part of an instructional program, we all sort of have to bite the bullet and all pitch in and do our part. As much as we hate to lose anything, or not be where were in the past, we need to do what we have to do the next couple of years until the economy gets better."

Fairfax County will likely eliminate gymnastics and also is considering cutting indoor track. Frederick County, which has three schools with pools, has discussed eliminating swimming. Loudoun County is mulling doing away with some sub-varsity sports.

The Loudoun County School Board approved a proposed budget earlier this month that included $11.8 million in cuts and also called for implementing a $50 athletic fee per student per sport.

If Loudoun's Board of Supervisors wants the schools to cut more out of the proposed budget, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has presented three tiers for additional trims of 5, 10 and 15 percent. Under the 5 percent plan, the proposed athletic fee would be $100, and transportation funds for after-school activities would decrease by 25 percent. The 10 percent proposal would eliminate all freshman sports and junior varsity boys' and girls' lacrosse, and the athletic fee would increase to $200; after-school busing would be cut by 50 percent and the schools' assistant athletic director position would be eliminated, as well as funding for assistant athletic trainers. The 15 percent tier would cut all after-school busing, and the athletic fee would go up to $250.

The transportation cuts, should they be enacted, have not been clearly defined, Loudoun officials say, but it is possible that athletes and parents would have to provide their own transportation to events or rely on booster clubs and fundraisers to pay for busing.

"We're going to have to be creative if it gets to that point, no question," Cummings said.

In Fairfax County, dozens of speakers turned out last month for two public hearings to protest the proposed elimination of indoor track, a sport that involves about 2,800 students in the district. Fairfax is also discussing doing away with gymnastics, with between 125 and 200 participants countywide. Of the two, gymnastics is most likely to be eliminated, although the Fairfax budget will not be finalized until May.

In Montgomery County, the budget calls for $452,156 less in stipends for extracurricular activities, including sports, but county athletics supervisor Duke Beattie said he does not foresee any major changes in how school sports programs operate.

"The schools, historically, are very budget-conscious when it comes to athletics," Beattie said, citing that schools in Montgomery County are grouped into divisions to limit transportation costs. "Athletic departments are pretty much self-sustaining. You have gate receipts, and how much they are cycled back into the schools is one thing, but you also have booster clubs. . . . If one runs a program carefully, you can minimize your losses and keep things running for a long time."

Some jurisdictions, such as the District and Calvert County, are not far enough along in budget proceedings to determine how sports might be affected, the athletic heads in those areas said.

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