Budget cuts may affect sports programs in Fairfax County and throughout Washington area

By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

At least one area school jurisdiction faces the prospect of major cuts in athletics that will lead to the elimination of certain sports and programs, and other school systems appear headed for similar cuts when budgets are announced in February.

Fairfax County, which flirted with cutting indoor track and gymnastics last year before ultimately deciding to fund them, again is proposing to eliminate indoor track, along with winter cheerleading and all freshman sports. Those cuts would save a projected $1.8 million. Swimming and diving practices are to be trimmed by 50 percent.

"There has never been a situation this drastic," said Bill Curran, Fairfax County student activities and athletics director. "This isn't a one-sport, two-sport thing. This is completely system-wide from county and state on down. It is so much more than athletics. This impacts every single one of our classrooms and everything we do. . . . Overall, athletics is a benefit to our students. Kids who participate in athletics, it impacts them the rest of their lives."

Fairfax also is proposing adding a $100 participation fee per student, per sport. The estimated $900,000 the fee could generate would not be earmarked to fund athletics. It would go into a general fund.

Opposition to cutting both indoor track and freshman sports has been stiff, with online petitions and other grass-roots efforts, which could make for impassioned public hearings Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

About 2,200 Fairfax County students played freshman sports -- football, volleyball, basketball and cheerleading -- in 2008-09. About 2,700 students participated in indoor track last school year.

"When you look outside of athletics and look at Fairfax County Public Schools as a whole, it has never looked like this, ever," Curran said. "We're like in a whole different ballfield with this year's budget. There's no offsetting anything."

Loudoun County avoided proposed cuts last year but instituted a $100 activity fee. The current $764.7 million proposal reflects less than a 5 percent increase in local funding and does not include cuts to athletics.

Should the Loudoun Board of Supervisors request more cuts of the proposed budget, however, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III drafted a list of areas for trims that includes freshman sports, junior varsity lacrosse and assistant trainer and assistant athletic director positions.

The activity fee could also increase up to as much as $300 per student, per sport, and there might be cuts to after-school transportation by 33 percent.

In Maryland, several counties are holding steady or requesting a slight increase in funding for sports -- including Calvert, Anne Arundel and Howard counties. D.C. Public Schools also does not anticipate making cuts.

Prince George's County is avoiding cuts by continuing to limit out-of-county road games to 50 miles, combining baseball and softball road trips and buses, and limiting teams to two preseason road scrimmages. The county also reduced the number of middle school contests by two games per season.

"We may have to make cuts, but that will be done later this year or in July once we see what we're working with," said Earl Hawkins, Prince George's County director of athletics.

A proposed budget in Montgomery County includes possible cuts should the county not receive local funding up to a certain level. Those cuts would include the elimination of coaches' stipends and other funding for sports that could necessitate the institution of activity fees.

"No final determinations have been made as of yet on next year's budget," Montgomery County Athletic Director Duke Beattie said. "I have not been made aware of any specific adjustments, but I am aware that there will likely be some adjustments, perhaps significant. Athletics will continue to be as diligent as possible in its spending, and will make whatever adjustments are necessary for the future."

Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Steven L. Walts will unveil his budget to the school board Feb. 3, while his counterpart in Stafford, David Sawyer, will present his Feb. 9.

Last year, Prince William wrestled with the idea of turning middle school sports into an intramural program and charging athletes a $50 fee, yet neither proposal wound up coming to fruition.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company