Schools Shouldn't Pass The Buck To Sports


October 25, 1991|By Pat O'Malley

Bernie Walter is disgusted and discouraged, and that should be of concern.

It's not that Walter is the most important coach and athletic director in the county, but that he symbolizes the enthusiasm of many of the county's great coaches. Or at least he did.

And to see many good people like him sick mentally and spiritually because of what's happening around them is downright depressing. You don't expect the Bernie Walters of the academic/athletic system to get down.

But this budget crisis, which could result in the stoppage of high school sports and extracurricular activities, has him and others down, way down.

"The morale at our school is brutal," said Walter, who is athletic director and department chairman of physical education at Arundel High in Gambrills.

"I've never seen it like this. It comes down to leadership, and that's where we are lacking. This whole idea of cutting extracurricular activities doesn't have to happen, but the people in the leadership positions are looking for theeasiest and most convenient way to cut funds, instead of taking the time to look at the things we don't need and making hard decisions."

Walter is right. It seems as though the way to make cuts and solveproblems is to pass the buck. The federal government has passed it to the states, who in turn pass it to the counties until it finally ispassed on to education.

When it gets to education, things get nasty because it involves youngsters, their parents and teachers. Ultimately, programs such as high school sports and extracurricular activities are put in jeopardy.

It's been estimated that by cutting coaches' salaries and transportation for teams and extracurricular activities that $2 million could be shaved off the deficit.

So, many coaches around the county have been sitting around trying to think up ways to cut $2 million without eliminating sports.

The program that most teachers and coaches I talk to (and I've talked to a lot as a reporter and concerned parent of two in the system) would like to see cut is the Maryland School Performance program.

"We are spending bigbucks to keep drop-outs and lots of disruptive types in school, while we are saying to hell with the kid who wants to learn and come to school," Walter said.

"That program is providing a report card to our politicians while we talk about cutting those who really want to be in school."

It is one of the programs that local education unions are suggesting be dropped to save money.

Coaches like John Brady, Roy Brown and Dan Hart at Annapolis say they wouldn't mind being furloughed if it meant saving high school sports.

"A lot of us at Annapolis would rather be furloughed than get pay cuts," said Brady, who is head basketball coach at Annapolis.

"With a furlough, you actually lose money, but you get a day off. I would rather have a day off and get cut than get cut and have to work."

Brady and his colleagues figured that by giving each county teacher four furlough days, more than $2 million could be saved. The idea for the furloughs would be to cut the in-service days, which a lot of teachers hate anyway.

The students are not in school on the in-service days, such as the last day for teachers on which they sit around waiting to leave.

"Think of the heating and air conditioning costs the county would saveby cutting Monday and Friday in-service days," said Brady. "That waywe wouldn't have to talk about a nickel-dime sports program where coaches don't get paid."

An anonymous caller to my 24-Hour Sportsline, 647-2499, had the same idea and said, "Someone ought to look into it."

Another idea from Walter would be to give high school students the choice of a parking pass or bus transportation. Parking is freeat the schools, and most students, many of whom are athletes, look at a parking pass as a symbol of prestige.

Walter believes most of the students would choose the parking pass over riding the bus and, therefore, that bus service could be modified. He says buses for high school students, in time, practically could be eliminated and that parents would be willing to help work out transportation for their youngsters.

Let's face it, a lot of students drive these days, and with busescosting approximately $116 each per school day, their reduction could be quite a savings. By Walter's figures of approximately 10 buses per high school per day times 12 schools, over the course of a year, $2.1 million could be saved.

Here again, another constructivesolution to save athletics and extracurricular activities.

One ofthe main obstacles, however, for those concerned teachers and coaches regarding extracurricular programs, is the attitude and misunderstanding of many of those at the top.

"Too many people don't realize how important athletics and extracurricular activities are," said Walter. "They don't understand that the kid involved in other activitiesbesides school for the most part turn out to be your successful adults.

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