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Wrestling with a dilemma

Posted: February 6, 2013 - 1:04am
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Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School wrestler Sam Nolan gets a grappling lesson from JDHS' David Dumesil during a meet earlier this season. Nolan sought competition against high school grapplers as he cannot travel to face unknown opponents.  KLAS STOLPE / Juneau Empire
KLAS STOLPE / Juneau Empire
Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School wrestler Sam Nolan gets a grappling lesson from JDHS' David Dumesil during a meet earlier this season. Nolan sought competition against high school grapplers as he cannot travel to face unknown opponents.

I am wrestling with a dilemma.

I am trying to understand a problem involving a difficult choice.

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School wrestler Sam Nolan would like to be able to wear the Wolverines singlet and represent DZ at athletic events outside the district.

Sam is a good wrestler. So good in fact that he grappled competently with Juneau-Douglas High School’s state representative David Dumesnil.

Yet DZ is not allowing Sam or teammate Moira Johnson, or Connor Norman Or Jaiden Kohler or any other of their middle school sports classmates’ travel as school representatives.

An email I received from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School principal Molly Yerkes said:

“Thank you for your interest in the Dzantik’i Heeni wrestling program. We believe that when children participate in after school sports they learn life-long habits of keeping mentally and physically fit. Here at Dzantik’i Heeni the after-school activity program provides a wide variety of extracurricular activities. Our goal is to provide a program which all students find inviting. It has been designed to include a variety of activities that will appeal to students with diverse interests and backgrounds. We offer student government, culture club, technology club, Lego league, art club, yearbook, woodworking, math counts, jazz band, cross country, soccer, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, track & field, cooking club, archery, rifle club, music appreciation club, French club, the list goes on. We are not traveling this year for any of these activities due to cuts in both budget and staffing.”

The Juneau Youth Wrestling Club Tornados have offered funds to DZ to allow the wrestling team to travel to Ketchikan. This was done at a board meeting when funds were given to Thunder Mountain, Juneau-Douglas and Floyd Dryden.

“We were on the fence about DZ,” JYWC coach Josh Houston said. “We wanted to know where the money was going to, if anything. That is how it came to light that DZ was adamant they were not going to send kids to Ketchikan.”

The JYWC has numerous club wrestlers that now wrestle at the junior high level and attend DZ. The club was concerned these wrestlers would not be able to further their wrestling abilities to their full potential if DZ sports did not travel.

“We did not want to see kids not be able to wrestle at the tournament in Ketchikan,” Houston said. “We want to help all the programs but specifically the kids that came from our program. We want to see them get that experience.”

The JYWC contacted Ketchikan about club wrestlers attending without a school.

The Ketchikan School District will not allow club wrestlers attend the meet if they are not attached to a middle school team due to liability issues.

Houston stated that DZ knew of the monetary offer.

“They were told that the money was there and available,” Houston said. “The fact that their team was so small, the money we were offering was actually enough to fund their whole team without them actually having to fund raise. I didn’t offer the money directly and they didn’t tell me the reasons directly.

Emails concerning the DZ administrations non-travel plans, offers of money, and fundraising had circulated among parents and coaches and school officials.

An email from DZ’s Yerkes stated her reasoning for not approving travel this year:

1 - Our office staff has been reduced significantly. We simply do not have the time to coordinate the tickets, housing, transportation, food, etc. that is necessary for a well run school trip.

2 - We do not have the school funds to help offset the cost of travel, so all funds would need to come from fundraising.

3 - With the economy the way it is I don’t want to continue to tax the community with extensive fundraising.

4 - Students spending extensive time fundraising takes time away from their academics, which is my first priority.

Yerkes addressed another question that asked, “Are you telling the incoming 5th graders and their parents that if they are involved in sports they will not be allowed to travel?

Yerkes answered that DZ has not had a meeting for next year’s 6th grade parents, but she does expect to be telling them that “we will not have any out of district travel for middle school activities.”

“We haven’t heard an honest answer as far as I am concerned,” Houston said. “There is a reason they do not want it to happen but it is not any of the reasons they are giving us. Not when they are offered the money to fully fund that trip and they have a coach that is willing to go on that trip. There is obviously another reason that they haven’t told us. We have a lot of concern within our club because we have some kids scheduled to go there, and we know there are a lot of parents who are concerned.”

One concerned parent stated, “I just feel bad because these kids are working hard and do not get the same opportunities as the other kids traveling at Floyd Dryden. The Eagles are even taking some fifth graders with them. A lot of kids that put this effort into wrestling, it helps them later on in life, it toughens them up a little bit to get through.”

Some parents were concerned that not attending the Ketchikan meet would mean a middle school grappler could not qualify for the state tournament.

The state middle school wrestling tournament at Tanana does not require a wrestler to have participated in a regional style tournament.

The Ketchikan meet does, however, help set a standard for placing a youth where he would get equal competition and the opportunity to perform at his or her best.

An email from DZ coach John Smith to Yerkes stated that the money for travel is raised. It came from the help of families, donations from wrestling clubs, sales at the school, and from Native Corporations.

Incidentally, DZ does have a number of lower income students, which is nothing to be ashamed about. I myself was not as privileged as many of my teammates.

“We used to travel a lot more than we do now,” Yerkes said in a phone interview. “Pretty much, like the story across most districts, it is cuts in budget and personnel.”

Even with fundraising a DZ team could not travel I asked.

“It very much depends on the sport and the activity and the coaches,” Yerkes said. “There are a lot of factors, but for this year we are not traveling.”

Said Yerkes, “The tough part is if we 100 percent say that all of the funds have to be fundraised then it is basically very cost-prohibitive for any low socio-economic students, so we want to make sure that our activities are accessible to all of our students.”

I asked, hypothetically, if someone came up and offered to pay for all DZ sports travel right now, would they be able to?

“Part of the problem is we are at the end of our season,” Yerkes said. “If somebody had come up and said that three months ago it would be very different. At this point we are not traveling.”

A Site Council Meeting, or advisory group to the school, which includes a public comment portion, is being held tonight in the Dzantik’i Heeni library from 5-6 p.m.

Petersburg’s Mitkof Middle School activities director Jaime Cabral stated the school pays for one trip. Mitkof, Prince Of Wales and Wrangell teams have a ‘kind-of’ conference called the Stikine Tournament and it rotates among the communities for each sport. Their wrestling kids will travel with the Arena Wrestling Club, no liability is not a concern as they are part of USA wrestling.

“They have an outside cover source,” Cabral said. “They still go just representing Petersburg.”

The ferry doesn’t work for Petersburg but they will take it and arrive days in advance. They will also travel to Ketchikan for volleyball and cross over to play Craig. Group rates on the ferry are, roughly, $70 per athlete. Athletes pay just $35 per activity at the school.

There is another dilemma at work. Many communities in Southeast are looking for alternate trips instead of Juneau.

“There is talk in the rumorville,” Cabral said. “That every time another team (like Craig, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan) would go up to Juneau and Juneau said they would reciprocate and go down, they never did. It is so important for the kids that could not travel and especially for the parents so they can see their kids play at home. The big reciprocation piece is always nice. Especially for the younger classes that don’t get to travel.”

Floyd Dryden assistant principal and activities director Haifa Sadighi stated Eagles athletes are allowed one trip per year and fundraise. The basketball team did not travel this year due to lack of funds raised.

Makes sense.

They had the chance.

I asked Sadighi if the teams fundraised enough could they go on another trip?

“I guess they could,” Sadighi said. “If they have the money. Everything, though, depends on grade checks. Grades and attendance, those are the indicators.”

Floyd Dryden will be hosting the Coach Geoff Harben Wrestling Tournament on Friday and Saturday. Five teams will be attending: Haines, Hoonah, Ketchikan, Pelican and Yakutat. Sitka, also allowed one trip, is not coming this year as they will be attending the tournament in Ketchikan.

Schoenbar Middle School activities director Kelly Smith stated they are looking at trips north of Juneau to Anchorage, as they could compete against multiple teams for basically the same cost.

“Each team is responsible for whatever travel they want,” Smith said. “We try to let them know a head of time and everyone kind of has their own little fundraisers.”

Ketchikan’s includes dinner auctions, taco feeds and pancake breakfasts. Travel trips are not limited.

“Each kid is responsible for a certain amount that covers the tickets,” Smith said. “Our basketball team went to Juneau, went to Sitka, took the ferry to Met.”

Smith stated the Alaska Marine Highway System doesn’t work as it puts kids out of school for too long, so they must fly.

The cost of their soccer team flying to Juneau this year?

$15,000.

The wrestling team coming up to Juneau?

$10,000.

Smith said their problem is getting a schedule from all the middle schools early enough in advance to lock cheap tickets in.

“But if you look at the cost parents would have to give their kids to eat on the ferry, and the number of days we would be traveling on the ferry, it is cheaper to fly,” Smith stated.

Smith would also like to see a rotational system that would bring Juneau kids to Ketchikan at least once in their career and would alleviate hard feelings in the KTN community.

“They are never coming down and we spend a lot of money going there,” Smith said.

“There are parent groups that talk like that. I have been instructed to look at other options such as sending our soccer team north (Kenai) where they could play five teams in one week instead of the Juneau tournament. This is my fifth year here and I have never seen a home soccer game. Same with softball. Some people are a little bitter about that. Yes, communitites are in the same boat, but we are finding ways to make it work for the kids. And we feel bad for the kids, especially when one of the major southeast middle schools is not coming down.”

That is a dilemma.

Public opinion can be expressed at the Site Council Meeting from 5-6 p.m. tonight at the DZ library.

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