“It’s a horrible loss,” said Assistant Superintendent Eric Volta of the elimination of freshman sports. “Everything that we have been doing – all of the cuts we have been doing in education this year – have been horrible. It’s not just athletics; it’s our clubs as well. Our freshman English classes used to be 20-1 (student-teacher ratio) and now will be 32- or 35-1. Freshman math classes were 20-1 and will be at the regular class size of 32-1. We have cut district librarians, the diversity coordinator, clerical staff. We are looking at $4 million of cuts for next year in everyday operating expenses.
“All of the cuts are hurtful. It’s hard to place a value on one cut over another, because they are affecting different people in different ways. All of our extracurricular activities – that was extra time that a student spent with an adult after school, associating with the school, connecting with the school. That will be tough to fill that void somehow. With athletics you have to have a minimum GPA and behavior code in order to participate in those activities. Hopefully, not too many people lose their way through these cuts.”
Eight freshman coaches in football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, baseball and softball at each of the district’s three high schools receive about $2,000 each per season. Eliminating the stipends equates to a savings of about $16,000 per school or $48,000 for the district.
Several coaches have offered to coach for free. But Volta said, “That is not an option at this time. We want to make it equitable among all of the schools.” District officials want to avoid the possibility of one school raising funds to pay its freshman coaches while the others are unable to do so. “Another school’s coach might say, ‘I am practicing five days a week and you want me to donate my time?’ We want to make it equitable for all sites.” Also the funding must be equitable for both boys and girls sports, according to federal Title 9 regulations.
A fundraising effort is underway to save freshman sports. Volta said that the LUHSD Education Foundation Web site, www.educationwins.org, would be updated to allow donations to be targeted for freshman sports. There is definite concern about the loss of freshman sports – an e-mail blast was recently sent out by a parent urging others to contact Volta, who said he’s received 15 e-mails or calls so far.
But raising that amount of money in the next seven weeks will be a tall order, according to Steve Amaro, Freedom High athletic director. “It’s a possibility,” he said. “And we are going to try it. Realistically, I think it’s a tremendous long shot without an extraordinary amount of community support. August is coming so quick.”
The Freedom sports booster club sold water and ice cream at the school’s graduation ceremony Saturday to raise money for freshman sports. They are also considering holding a casino night fundraiser, selling advertisements at the football field and having a fundraising booth at the Brentwood CornFest.
“Any way you look at it, $48,000 is a lot of money,” said Amaro, even if it’s broken into $16,000 needing to be raised per school. “For Oakley that’s a tremendous challenge that we face. There are a lot of people who have already given all that they can. At least one school (Heritage) will be able to raise the money pretty easily. The other (Liberty) has a 100-year history. We (at Freedom) face a stacked deck. We will have to do the best we can. The beautiful thing about Oakley is that when it faces challenges, it rises to it. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to that.”
But even if the $48,000 is raised by August, many freshman teams might be playing shortened seasons this fall. The local teams have given a heads-up to their opponents to let them know the games likely will not be played, allowing the other teams to schedule other opponents.
“It’s a sad day for Freedom athletics and the district’s athletics,” said Amaro. “It’s a sad day for the school community. We want to try to get as many people involved in athletics. It gives a connection to campus that they didn’t have before, which will increase their chance of success.”
He noted that if the freshman teams are eliminated, talented freshman athletes would still have the opportunity to try out for and play on the junior varsity teams – in fact, some freshmen play varsity sports.
“Obviously they will still pick the best athletes for the team,” Amaro said. “However, that makes the competition for the JV team that much more competitive. Some athletes may be turned off from that. Some athletes that are late bloomers may not have an opportunity to participate (at all). The reverse is true as well. You may have a freshman with potential and cut a senior to make room for that freshman with the understanding that you will have that freshman for four years. It can go both ways, and both ways it can have a consequence.”
The next Freedom sports boosters meeting is 7 p.m. on June 14 at the high school. Amaro said it would take a concerted effort by the booster clubs at all three schools to reach the $48,000 goal.