Budget cuts sideline two sports Gymnastics, golf lose varsity status

June 03, 1993|By Chuck Acquisto | Chuck Acquisto,Contributing Writer

School budget cutbacks during the past three years and an increase in liability risks were major factors in Howard County officials' decision to drop high school gymnastics and golf from varsity status for the 1993-94 school year.

"I understand why anybody who has a kid playing golf or gymnastics would like to drag me behind their car right now," said Donald Disney, Howard County Executive Supervisor of Health and Education.

"But for the last three years we've been cutting back on everything from athletic equipment, field supplies, van transportation and even, in some sports, from two officials to just one. There was nothing more to shake off the tree.

"To ask the county to not cut from interscholastic athletics while everything else is sends the message sports are more important than the school day and that's simply not so."

Before deciding which sports to eliminate to meet the county's $900,000 athletic budget for the 1994 fiscal year, Disney said he looked at the cost per athlete in each sport and the chances of liability. Gymnastics and golf were at the top of both lists.

Gymnastics, with 85 participants this past school year, cost roughly $500 per athlete.

"In comparison, football costs $262 per participant. Indoor track is $81," said Disney, adding that football's expense is offset by revenue generated by the program itself.

With nearly $20,000 worth of new equipment needing to be purchased for high school gymnasts who are becoming more advanced, Disney said his first concern turned to severe injuries and possible lawsuits.

"Most of the county's equipment is worn and with qualified coaches not in the same school as the programs, kids were setting up the equipment and that's where it can get dangerous and costly," said Disney, also noting that tumbling was being conducted on wrestling mats instead of the shock-absorbing and safer gymnastics variety.

"It's like going from playing basketball on a wooden floor to concrete," Disney said of the wrestling mats' potential to cause wear and tear on the body's joints and muscles.

Mount Hebron gymnastics coach Lisa Michael was disappointed and angry when she heard the news yesterday.

"We just built up the programs across the county to where the teams were fully stocked," she said, noting that 33 tried out for the Vikings team this spring, the largest turnout in her seven years coaching at the school.

Oakland Mills coach Bonnie Taylor said: "We were told there was a chance they would drop gymnastics, but we never thought they would have the audacity to do it. It's the worst injustice they've done to women in this county. My team is going to be crying."

Michael said the county's equipment is in good condition.

"There's only one school that may have needed updating on their extended bars and that was Hammond," she said, adding the extenders cost no more than $2,000.

Disney said: "If one kid gets hurt, say by a bar that pops out of the floor because the screw is stripped or wasn't inserted properly, I feel responsible."

The decision to drop gymnastics goes beyond Howard County's tight budget. In Maryland, only Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties also offered the varsity sport.

"Ten years ago, 15 or 16 subdivisions in Maryland offered gymnastics. This year, Montgomery had just six of its 21 schools offering the sport and Anne Arundel just seven of 13," Disney said. "Montgomery has already said the sport will be no more than club level next year and Anne Arundel was waiting for our decision before making one."

Michael said this year's freshmen who invested time and energy into learning gymnastics for the first time suffer the biggest loss.

"They're not good enough yet to make club teams and there isn't anything else offered at the school to apply their skills," she said. "Cheerleading isn't even considered a sport."

Golf, which Disney factored out to cost $500 for each of the 32 athletes who participated this spring, became a liability issue when transportation was eliminated last year.

"Kids were supposed to drive themselves home first, then go to the golf courses to avoid liability situations," Disney said. "It just wasn't happening. Many kids were driving straight to the courses."

Disney said $62,000 would be needed from the athletic budget to transport county golfers safely to and from practices and tournaments via vans, taxis or even limousines.

He said county high school golfers will continue to be able to compete in tournaments, including the state finals at the University of Maryland.

Hammond golf coach Mike Mongelli has volunteered to coordinate county golfers into a club league next school year.

"The schedule has already been made up," said Mongelli, a former PGA Middle Atlantic junior golf director. "We'll run a club. All schools will have a team of four golfers and will be eligible for district or states as a team or individual."

Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia will serve as the league's 18-hole course with one practice round and seven matches already scheduled, Mongelli said.

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