Fallston soccer coach Len Petrey finds some of the Cougars' toughestcompetition in Howard County. He soon may have to look elsewhere.
If the budget ax cuts much deeper into equipment and transportation for Howard County high school sports, teams may not be able to travelto Harford County. That would leave Harford teams with a scheduling dilemma.
"We would miss them," said Petrey, whose squad played Wilde Lake and Mount Hebron this year.
"If you go to Cecil County, you end upwith a lot of 1A schools. They're not going to give you the competition you get from Howard County. If you're going to have a good program, you've got to have good competition."
But good competition is not a primary consideration for officials in local jurisdictions, someof whom must cut tens of thousands of dollars from their high schoolsports budgets.
Sports in Harford schools haven't seen budget cuts so far, even though $786,000 has been trimmed from the schools' total operating budget of $137 million for the 1991-1992 school year.
"The county has been able to absorb cuts without affecting our athletic budget," said Jack McCracken, supervisor of high school physical education and health for Harford County. "I am scheduling for next year as I always have."
McCracken doesn't rule out the possibility of future cuts, but for now, Harford County is the only Baltimore-areajurisdiction in which state cuts to the counties haven't affected the high school sports program.
Programs in Anne Arundel, Baltimore,Howard and Carroll counties have all felt the crunch. And all are expecting further reductions after the next wave of state cuts in January.
With those new-year cuts, Howard officials may have to reduce transportation. One money-saving proposal is to restrict travel to a 25-mile radius, said Don Disney, executive supervisor of health and physical education in Howard County. That would eliminate trips to Harford County.
"This is strictly in the discussion stage for now, but we are considering dropping Harford County teams for next fall," said Disney. "We've had a tremendous relationship with Harford County, and I would hate to pull the plug, but we may have to try to survive without them."
When Howard county teams travel within their own jurisdiction, it costs just $100 per bus trip, said Disney. To get to Harford County, the cost leaps to $240.
Over the years, Howard teams have become perennial opponents for Harford County squads, because of the similarity in their programs. Both have eight public schools, so after playing each county foe once, there is still room for additional games in most sports.
Since Baltimore County, with 21 schools, and Anne Arundel County, with 12, have so many teams, much of theirscheduling is automatically locked in. Carroll County teams play in conferences with Frederick County schools.
Schools in those Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties might have room in their schedules for one non-league game. Howard and Harford teams often have room for four or more. Harford teams account for 50 percent of Howard's non-league games.
If the Howard cuts become a reality, McCracken said, there may be more games played within the county. He said more Cecil County teams and maybe a few more from Baltimore County might bescheduled to fill in.
Baltimore County has also cut back on transportation. Between $30,000 and $50,000 has to be trimmed, said Ron Belinko, supervisor of physical education and athletics for Baltimore County schools. However, he said, teams will still be able to come to Harford County.
To save transportation money, Belinko has doubled up on sending teams from different sports to the same part of the county in buses. In addition, his office will not fund any scrimmages, either varsity or junior varsity.
"We're not going to touch varsityunless things really get bad," said Belinko, a Harford County resident. "Things are really serious, more than most people think. Other programs are really being devastated. The music and art programs in Baltimore County have lost all their field trip money. Athletics cannot go untouched if you're cutting in other areas."
Cuts to the sportsprograms are affecting more than just transportation. In Howard County, each school has already lost $1,500 from its athletic equipment budget as part of a $4 million school cut.
Saturday practices are also in jeopardy in Howard, said Disney, because custodial workers cannot be paid to open the schools. Disney also announced that paid timers will no longer be used for basketball games. Also, junior varsity baseball and softball teams will have to get by with one umpire per game instead of two.
In Carroll County, cuts have been minor so far, and all have been on the JV level. Officials have cut the number ofscrimmages and will not pay for scrimmage officials.
In Anne Arundel County, money also has been cut from transportation and equipmentas government officials try to slash $10 million from the school budget. But officials don't expect any major change in the athletic program, said Dennis Younger, executive director of instruction. However,he said, one of two openings for coordinators of physical education will not be filled.