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Realignment of athletic conference bad for small schools

Posted: April 21, 2013 - 12:07am

We would respectfully like to call your attention to a problem that has become very difficult for the educational community at Petersburg High School.

The recent realignment in conference makeup here in Southeast has led to a dismal outcome for PHS and other Southeast small schools. Because we are now only playing two Sitka teams in our Southeast 3A group, Petersburg teams must travel regularly to Sitka. Getting there from Petersburg can be done by ferry or air. The ferry trip is at least 12 hours, often more, and the schedule requires that students miss three days of school. What’s worse, they don’t return to Petersburg until 4:30am Monday morning, making it very hard to put in a productive day of school on Monday. As all of us who live in Southeast know, even if kids are trying really hard to get proper rest, it’s nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep on the ferry floor, especially when there are other large groups aboard ship. When the District can afford it, which is not often, flying to and from Sitka is also difficult as there are no direct flights. Going there, teams have to transfer planes twice and don’t arrive until midnight. When they return, they have to get up at about 4:00am to catch a morning flight to Juneau, then sit around until 2:30pm to get to Petersburg. As a result, no matter whether they are traveling by ferry or air, the trips are tough on the kids, physically as well as academically. They are exhausted from the travel, they miss at least three days of school, and they often come home sick, leading to more days out. Additionally, our teacher coaches are also missing many days of school, leaving their classes with subs who may or may not be effective at teaching the material. Our administrators warned us last year of the negative effects of this change, and we are finding that the reality is much worse than was their warning.

Team travel has always been a difficult issue in Southeast. By design, our students who want to participate in interscholastic activities miss lots of school, and we have done everything in our power with the use of various forms of technology to try to mitigate the loss of seat time. The ASAA changes in the conference makeup, however, have taken a problem that we were coping with as best we could, and made it far worse. When our teams used to play the other small schools in the region, students seldom missed more than one school day for each trip. Now, they rarely miss fewer than three days. The sad part about this problem is that it could easily be avoided if we were to simply go back to the way it used to be.

Another problem has developed because of the reduced number of teams in the conference. In order to have the opportunity for teams to face a wider variety of opponents, our coaches have had to resort to traveling to an out-of-region tournament in Valdez. Ironically, this thousand-mile trip is actually taking the same amount of school time as a trip to Sitka, only 100 miles away.

What possible harm could it do to return to two levels of competition in Southeast, one with the larger schools (SHS, Mt. Edgecombe, Thunder Mountain, Ketchikan, and JDHS,) and the other with the smaller schools (Wrangell, Petersburg, Haines, Metlakatla, and Craig)? The larger schools have the resources to fly to their competitions, and it’s much easier for them to move back and forth between their towns. We smaller schools do not have the finances to fly everywhere, and even when we can fly to a competition, the airline schedules are so inconvenient, the teams might as well take the ferry.

We are teachers of English, chemistry, music, mathematics, P.E., Spanish, social studies, technology, art, and biology. We care about our students — their learning and their health. We know that they are harmed academically by attending class so seldom and trying to do the rest of their work in study sessions while traveling. As educators, the ASAA officials must know this also. They, however, are treating the small schools as if we were ugly step-children who should be quiet and subservient, no matter what.

We’re sure ASAA agrees that high school activities are all about providing students the chance to play sports, to build character, to learn teamwork, and to provide events that are enriching to the academic program. All these elements existed with the old alignment. The Southeast small schools were very competitive; no single team was ever a powerhouse for long. Players saw many different opponents, and the players’ abilities were comparable. Sadly, with the current schedule, our students are losing interest in participating because they are so beaten down by the travel. Their schoolwork and their health are suffering. The ASAA has effectively undercut the very reason we have sports because they have imposed a grueling travel schedule on our players and coaches. This situation could easily be changed, but it will require that the state’s “top level” educators keep in mind what’s best for the kids.

We ask them to consider realigning the competition in Southeast to have two groups of five teams each, divided between the five larger and five smaller schools. There would be everything to be gained and nothing to be lost with this change.

The Petersburg High School faculty:

Susan Hardin, Matt Lenhard, Tom Thompson, Rob Schwartz, Bridget Wittstock , Louise Lindley, Victor Trautman, Dino Brock, Ginger Evens,Joni Johnson, Jo Ann Day, Jim Engell

Ashley DuRoss, Carissa Cotta, Sarah Boss, Jon Kludt-Painter

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