Despite the recommendations of Prince George's County Supervisor of Interscholastic Athletics Owen Johnson and of county athletic directors, athletic programs in the county took a 9 percent cut from the $2.3 million budget Thursday when the Board of Education passed its school budget for the fiscal year 2000.

Johnson and a seven-member committee of county athletic directors met on more than one occasion during the past few weeks to deliberate where the cuts would fall, finally outlining three proposals of 6.8, 7 and 8.3 percent. Thursday's cut exceeded the most severe of the proposals and could mean the elimination of sports such as swimming, golf and tennis, as well as on-site medical personnel at games.

"Anything could happen," Johnson said. "This is extremely difficult and I'm not optimistic. People talk about the children, but I think the taxpayers of Prince George's County need to get down there and pay for it."

Even though there were reports that athletic programs could be cut by as much as 10 percent if the budget was approved, not one of the 37 people who spoke Thursday addressed concerns about the athletic budget. Most parents and teachers lobbied for higher teacher salaries, smaller classrooms and continued funding of the community-based classroom.

The budget cuts $209,847 from funds allocated for next year's athletic programs. On Monday Johnson submitted a proposal to the county office of Leroy Tompkins, who oversees the budget. Johnson's final proposal proposes cuts of approximately $157,000 [see accompanying chart].

"They will probably come back to us and ask for the rest," Johnson said. "We'll sit down and talk and throw something out there and see what happens."

"This is not only a non-improvement, but a retreat, especially when referees, transportation and uniforms cost more money," said Ernie Welch, athletic director at High Point and one of the members of the committee that worked with Johnson. "For us to stand still is not good enough. To cut a bare-bones program is penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Welch added that an assistant coaching position for both boys and girls soccer could be among the next items cut should the county stick to its 9 percent cut. A reduction of junior varsity schedules is also under consideration.

The submitted plan involves no raises for coaches and athletic directors, cutting a football assistant coach's salary at each school, cutting cheerleading out of the athletic budget (in hopes it can be funded through a line item for student activities) and cutting custodial help for Saturday football games.

Not included in the operating budget are funds devoted to repairs of county athletic facilities, which come from the county's capital improvement budget that was approved last month. The capital improvement budget allocates $900,000 to repair tracks at Bowie and Laurel high schools and build two new tennis courts at Friendly.

Doug Brown, who works for the county's finance office, said an estimated $350,000 of that money would go toward Bowie's track; $400,000 will be applied to Laurel. He estimated the cost of the tennis courts to be $150,000.

As for county coaches, the news that they would not receive raises hardly came as a surprise to most. It has been at least three years since coaches have gotten a bump in pay.

"We have a belief in Prince George's that we should expect to do more with less," Northwestern tennis coach Tom Walsh said.

"I don't know of anybody who got into coaching in here who is in it for the money," Walsh said. "Several years ago, I went and spent part of my salary on used tennis rackets because a lot of kids came out with wooden rackets and I wanted them to have something decent to play with."

Others, however, expressed concern that coaches may leave the county.

"If I'm a pretty good football coach and decide that nobody here cares about athletics, I think I would take my skills elsewhere, where someone cares about them," said Welch, who also coaches basketball at High Point.

Even though an assistant football coaching position is being eliminated, some coaching staffs will not let that person go, but rather pay everyone else on the staff less.

"We're not out here because of the money," Suitland football coach Nick Lynch said. "We can't really afford to let a person go. We put all the [salary] money in a pot and then divvy up the money. We're already stretching it anyway."

Under the 8 percent cut (about $191,000) Johnson and the committee devised prior to the budget vote, swimming, golf and tennis would be eliminated. That proposal shocked Board of Education member Robert J. Callahan of Bowie.

"I think they can operate every program with the 9 percent cut without cutting sports," Callahan said.

But Johnson knows how much the athletic budget has been stretched without cutting programs.

"When you cut, you bleed and then it depends on how deep the wound is," Johnson said. "Sometimes you sever a limb, but we just got cut. We're going to start losing limbs pretty soon."

Hard Choices

When Prince George's County Public Schools asked Supervisor of Interscholastic Athletics Owen Johnson to determine a way to take 9 percent from the $2.3 million athletic budget, Johnson and a seven-member committee of athletic directors put together three proposals. Here's what they came up with:

PROPOSAL A (Submitted Monday)

* Remove pay, benefits increases due coaches and athletic directors

$ 84,000

* Remove one paid football assistant coach

$ 38,000

* Remove cheerleader paid coaching position

$ 26,400

* Remove custodian hours for Saturday football

$ 9,500

TOTAL

$157,900 (Percent cut: 6.8)

PROPOSAL B

* Remove pay, benefits increases due coaches and athletic directors

$ 84,000

* Remove one paid summer football assistant coach

$ 34,000

* Remove one paid girls, boys soccer assistant coach

$ 35,000

* Remove custodian hours for Saturday football

$ 9,500

TOTAL

$162,500 (Percent cut: 7)

PROPOSAL C

* Remove pay, benefits increases due coaches and athletic directors

$ 84,000

* Remove funding for swimming

$ 52,000

* Remove funding for golf

$ 21,000

* Remove funding for tennis

$ 25,000

* Remove custodian hours for Saturday football

$ 9,500

TOTAL

$191,500 (Percent cut: 8.3)

CAPTION: Suitland football coach Nick Lynch: "We're not out here because of the money. We're already stretching it."