School sports' cuts have drastic consequences, group says
A new report says that $2 billion in cuts to school-based sports and physical education programs are contributing to a range of problems afflicting the nation's youth, including obesity, violence and academic failure.
The report by Up2Us, a New York City-based coalition of groups lobbying to save such programs, was released last week as more than 150 researchers, coaches and leaders of nonprofit groups gathered in Washington for a conference on the fate of youth sports in an age of budget cuts.
"Youth sports is in serious decline in this country," said Brian Greenwood, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. "We can't afford that potential negative impact. If a kid doesn't have somewhere to go, something to do to occupy their time, unfortunately what they do more often than not is they end up in trouble."
The $2 billion figure cited in the report was extrapolated from 23 school district budgets. Most Washington area schools have not lost many sports programs yet. Last year, players, coaches and parents rallied to reverse some districts' proposals to slash sports and collect participation fees.
But athletics during and after school hours in the District already are bare-bones compared with its suburban counterparts, advocates said. About half of the city's middle and high schools teach required physical education courses for all grades; in Maryland, three-quarters do so, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"A lot of stuff happening during the school day is strict test-prep and all that's needed to get kids up to the standards," said Amy Nakamoto, executive director of DC Scores, a nonprofit that provides after-school programs in soccer and poetry for more than 700 students at 23 public and public charter schools in the District. "We provide a service that the school district's not able to provide right now."
District nonprofits already are helping to shoulder the burden of providing opportunities to exercise. DC Scores, for example, has hired 80 public and charter school teachers to run its after-school programs and, at a cost of $90,000 a year, runs a soccer league for middle-schoolers.
Elsewhere in the Washington region, wealthier school districts have managed to keep sports programs largely intact.
In Fairfax County, supporters of high school gymnastics and indoor track saved those sports from elimination this year. But now the district is facing a $176 million projected deficit for next year and Bill Curran, director of student activities and athletics, said he expects to be forced to slice the $4 million sports operating budget in half.
Under consideration are such measures as eliminating freshman and junior varsity teams and charging participation fees of $25 to $100. "It's going to be drastic," Curran said.
Schools in Prince George's County have avoided fees and wholesale elimination of sports, finding other ways to save, according to spokesman MosesAlexander Greene. Starting last year, teams were limited to two scrimmages, allowed to travel no more than 50 miles one way for games and asked to share buses with other teams to reduce transportation costs. At the middle school level, each sport's season was shortened by two contests.
Spokespersons for schools in the District and Prince William, Arlington and Montgomery counties said their programs remained unchanged this year. The latter charges a $30 annual fee for participation in any extracurricular activity.
Loudoun County now charges a $100-per-sport fee to play high school sports, which will raise $770,000. So far, it has not affected participation rates, district spokesman Wayde Byard said.