Physical educators, athletic directors and coaches at area high schools, faced with budget cutbacks, staff shortages and the threat of athletics being dropped, are wondering if sports have become too expensive.

"Everyone is having financial problems and it's becoming more and more difficult to support any comprehensive athletic program," said Dr. Linton Deck, superintendent of schools in Fairfax County. "The schools are supposed to be self-supporting, but many aren't handling it very well. Money is tight and it will stay that way. We are obligated to maintain a balance between boy and girl activities, but we can't continue to add programs. Not now."

Many schools have eliminted nonrevenue generating sports. In the Interhigh, money is so tight that every school program has been affected, either by cutbacks in personnel, less available equipment or poorly maintained facilities. The 18 high schools are trying to get by on $200,000, the same amount they had 10 years ago.

"We can't pay our coaches, so we are unable to field certain sports," said Vinna Freeman, the D.C. Public School director of physical education and athletics. "Look at the soccer program. At one time, we had as many as 10 teams. Now we're lucky to field five."

Freeman thinks soccer will benefit, "because it's cheap and many kins can get involved. At the present, though, to generate any type of revenue at all, we have to rely on the so-called elite sport: football and basketball. aAnd with our facility situations, those sports aren't making the money they should."

Many fields lack fences, so schools often can't charge admission.

"In addition, students aren't attending the games like they once did," Freeman said. "Some big decisions will have to be made soon because we can't continue to work under these circumstances. We're hurting our children. Athletics is very important for some of them, and apparently some people don't realize that."

It's going to be a battle to keep what we have," Bill Kyle, Montgomery County athletic director, said. "We have to begin monitoring all the programs to see what sports aren't going too well. We're trying to remain positive, and it's becoming difficult to handle this constant cutback situation anymore. The next five years will be a test. We have to find some way to relieve our financial problems. But this has been coming for some time and, believe me, we're looking at every way possible to keep athletics in the schools."

Other major cities, burdened with the same problems, have even considered allowing communities to run the schools' athletic programs.

"Why not?" asked Bill Savage, curriculum specialist for athletics, driver education and special activities for Fairfax County. We've already come to the point of not being able to offer every sport. So why not allow those sports to be community-sponsored? In Northern Virginia, we have big gymnastic and swimming programs that are already strong in the community, so we've begun heading in that direction.

"Lacrosse is another sport putting pressure on us. We don't have the facilities to cope with that. In some cities, the personnel crunch is so bad, they've begun a rent-a-coach process. Anyone in the community can come in the school and coach the teams."

In the area, the rent-a-coach system has not been used yet, but school administrators say it could be necessary in the near future.

Freeman also expects more community involvement in sports, with volunteers coaching the teams and perhaps even funding them.

"One reason we may have to look at the community more is our lack of facilities," she said."They can sponsor the activities, provide coaches and be directly responsible for organizing and running the programs.Of course, this will challenge the organization and management structure of teams. That scares me a little. Another problem might evolve around the community organization misusing the power they will have over the high schools. By putting up the financial obligations, they may feel they have to be in total control."

The trend toward community-oriented sports programs could become a reality if teacher layoffs and transfers continue. Many schools find themselves without certified or competent coaches. Many of the competent have become so disenchanted with the system, they have quit coaching. c

"Right now, I need 11 coaches for my fall teams," said Bill Caudell, athletic director at W.T. Woodson, one of the few schools in the metropolitan area to show a profit this year. "This de-staffing has taken away all the teachers who would coach. I don't know what I'm going to do. This is just no money available and this will become a cancer if we aren't careful. We've stretched our funds and facilities as far as we can. w

"If I were the superintendent, 'd look over the entire county and see where I could provide the most help. My alternatives would be either remain status quo by trying to get along with the same sports on the same money or try to find some money in other outlets.

"Can the county assume a greater financial role? They already pay for our transportation and coaching supplements. In the five years, there will be greater pressure for each school to maintain its program. Some are having trouble now. Most of the schools are operating in the red. I don't know how some of the smaller schools out here, as well as some of the other schools in other parts of the area, make it.

"We spend between $40,000 and $65,000 in a year, depending on what we need. And the only way we're able to get in the black is by hustling. But you can't afford any losses, either in attendance at the gates or equipment losses. You have to hold onto every dollar."

Several athletic directors feel that if tight money continues, a greater emphasis will be placed on intramurals.

"In the future, the emphasis may eventually come to intramurals," Freeman said. "It's cheap and many more students participate. Also, many educators feel intramurasl are much more worthwhile since there's not as much emphasis placed on winning.

"We may begin swinging back toward intramurasl to accommodate those needs. And others have suggested dropping some sports and concentrating on a major fall, winter and spring sport to cut costs. Right now the negative points outweigh the positive points. Things look very bleak for our field."