The Montgomery County Board of Education this week went beyond Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo's recommendations and approved funds for interscholastic sports in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.
The board unanimously approved Bernardo's request for $215,500 to restore interscholastic sports for ninth graders and then voted to add $52,500 to the budget, which the superintendent had not asked for, to pay for seventh and eighth grade sports activities. Four board members voted for the seventh and eight grade sports funds, one voted against and one abstained.
The budget now goes to the County Council, which has until May 15 to act on it.
THe restoration of interscholastic sports in junior high and middle scholls delighted the more than 200 parents who met last week at Earle R. Wood Junior High School in Rockville in a last-stand effort to convince the board of the importance of the sport programs.
During the weekend, parents blitzed school board members with phone calls, letters and petitions. More than 8,200 petitions and letters, most of them mimeographed letters that were passed out at last week's meeting, were counted before the board's action, said a school board employee. All the letters were from proponents of interscholastic sports.
Funds approved by the education board for junior high interscholastic sports were eliminated for the current academic year following budget cuts by the County Council last May.
The additional money for seventh and eights grade programs next year includes funds to pay athletic coordinators at the three new middle schools - composed of grade six through eight - that will open in September.
Because Bernado's proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $15.5 million over current spending, some parents attending last week's meeting said they fear funds for ninth grade sports may be axed again and that senior high sports may be next to go if further cuts are made.
Louis Gorin of Rockville said he is concerned about the changing attitude among school officials. Although his children have graduated from high school, Gorin said he feels the county is regressing by pulling away from a former community school concept.
"If we don't provide wholesome outlets for students we are going to pay for it through social welfare, vandalism and kids getting into trouble," he said. "The youth seem to be getting the short end of the stick and that bothers me. It's late, but we are going to start making our voices heard."
Many cheered when Bethesda attorney Robin Ficker suggested taking the school sports issue to voters this year if interim efforts are thwarted.
"It only takes 10,000 signatures to get a question on the ballot," said Ficker, a Republican candidate for the state legislature from the Potamac-Gaithersburg district.
This week, Ficker said, he has written a letter to council President Elizabeth Scull, asking if the council has the four votes needed to include seventh, eight and ninth grade interscholastic sports in the budget.
"I have given her 10 days to answer," said Ficker. If Scull does not respond, or the response is negative, "I am going to start a petition to have the question added to the ballot in the next election."
In an interview, Scull said she favors interscholastic sports. She said that last year, "in a very difficult budget situation," the council subsituted intramural sports for interscholastic activities in junior high schools, believing the average student would get more of a chance to participate. "It didn't work," she added.
Junior high interscholastic sports last year included soccer, cross country, gymnastics, basketball, track, golf and tennis. Several faculty members interviewed recently said they observed changes after losing these sports.
Robert L. Thames, athletic director at Newport Junior School in Kensington said incidents of vandalism there have already reached 30 while 21 cases were documented during all of the last school year.
"You don't just eliminate sports for 12 to 15 players," he said. "There are managers, coaches, pom-pom groups, cheerleaders, pep clubs and a whole school identity. The focus even spills over to art classes when students make posters for the games."