Funding intramural activities Howard County: After-school programs for middle schools need recreation money.

October 25, 1995

IF MIDNIGHT basketball is seen as an answer to the problems of urban juveniles, why not take the same position for mid-afternoon basketball in the suburbs?

It's a serious question raised by the recent difficulties with after-school sports programs in Howard County middle schools, which fell victim to education budget cuts.

The $77,000 to pay for the intramural athletic programs was eliminated from the school budget in favor of classroom spending. That was probably the right choice, given the budget cut imposed on the Howard school board.

But the result this fall has been a sharp drop, as much as 75 percent, in participation by middle school students in the substitute athletics programs organized by the county Department of Parks and Recreation. The main reason: reasonable fees for the recreation programs that can still hit the pocketbook of many families.

This comes at a time when local and state studies are calling for more adult-supervised activities for adolescents, who are most susceptible to substance abuse and the dismal problems resulting from it. Most kids who experiment with controlled substances begin doing so at middle-school age, according to a recent Howard County survey.

Society can pay now or pay later, as the saying goes, and we all know which is cheaper.

One obvious solution is to fund these middle school intramurals from the recreation department budget, not from the school budget. The number of activities might be trimmed to curb costs, but the range should be broad enough to encourage the widest participation.

School teachers could be paid extra for supervising intramurals, or parks staff could be used, but the funding would not come at the expense of classroom educational needs. Instead of collecting $2 an hour from enrollees, and deciding who is eligible for free participation, the programs could focus entirely on providing recreation opportunities for the children.

That should be seen as a bargain in social services. Admittedly, a lot of Howard families readily pay significant sums for their children's activities. But other families are less financially able, especially with several kids' demands.

Recreation-budget funding for middle school intramurals appears to be a winning solution for the children and for the community.

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