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No travel? No way!

Posted: March 29, 2013 - 12:12am

Juneau is about to upset the balance of youth athletics across the Southeastern panhandle.

Everything that has been good and holy about competition between youth in sports bras and jock straps is, literally, being made holier .. not in the biblical term but as in “poked full of holes and made very porous.”

The capital city is on a sinking athletic and activities budget that is about to go under for the third time.

“I am worried,” Sitka High School basketball coach Andy Lee said. “Because if Juneau stops middle school travel the ripple effect will be that we won’t come over there, it will hurt the quality of our programs because our administrators and parents will say if Juneau in not coming here, we are not going there. And it will be a ripple affect.”

All Southeast travel is based on a 50-year history of reciprocal travel and outlying communities rely on the attendance at each other’s events to maintain strong community ties and build lifelong relationships.

A decline in athletic and activity budgets and events has already consumed Hoonah, which went without a girls’ high school program this year. Angoon is on target to not have a program next year. Ketchikan middle schools have already made plans to travel to other venues instead of Juneau because of Juneau’s spotty attendance in Ketchikan. Petersburg does not travel with a junior varsity team too often.

Skagway, Hoonah and Hydaburg fielded coed basketball teams this season.

Rumors swirl of Juneau junior varsity programs being cut.

Emails are circulating.

And I cannot get a call back from Phil Bedford, the Juneau School District director of human services.

He has been mentioned frequently in the emails I’ve gotten on this.

Emails that say he has mandated that there will be NO middle school travel next year and did it without input from parents, students, teachers, or administrators.

Emails say sports saved their lives, and that activities and the ability to travel helped to develop discipline in life and confidence and self-worth.

Emails are saying sports and travel provide a therapy for some. One read: “the only thing that I had to look forward to was sports and traveling with the team.”

Statistically, children who are in trouble with the law and/or dealing with extreme situations lead a better life with sports or activities.

“There is no budget to cut,” Floyd Dryden Middle School principal Tom Milliron said. “We have never funded any travel out of our operating budget. That all comes from community members fundraising, banner sales, and things like that. So it is not a budget cut of travel. The best words for me to use at this point is that there is the expectation from the district office that there will be no sports or middle school activities travel next year.”

Milliron said all the facts will be presented and questions answered at a Floyd Dryden Site Council meeting on Monday at 5 p.m. in the FD library.

“At this point there has been no opportunity for Floyd Dryden in the decision,” Milliron said. “That first opportunity will come at the site council meeting. There has been no input from the Dryden community to district administration or school board members. The first opportunity for that process to start, kind of after the fact but at least it has to happen, will be Monday at 5.”

Milliron said it was not a budget issue or related to the budget the school board passed on Tuesday evening, but would not elaborate.

“I am not on board,” Milliron said. “And I very strongly voiced opposition to that expectation. What I am on board with is our complete budget reduction package. It was very difficult and we put a lot of time into it. Any budget reduction is not a fun or happy thing, however, through quite a long process, all the administrators worked on it, a community group worked on it, and administrators again worked on it and finally the school board on Tuesday night took it into consideration for the second and final reading. I am completely on board with the budget package, I am not on board with eliminating middle school travel. Two totally unrelated items.”

When Dzantik’i Heeni held their site council meeting and added the topic of why the Wolverine wrestling team could not travel to venues, even if money was handed to the school to cover all costs, including paying for substitute teachers, there appeared to be no clear answer.

Reasons given for eliminating travel have included the cost of paying for substitute teachers when teacher coaches are out of the classroom; loss of instruction time when students travel; and the desire for fundraising to be focused on high school, thus minimizing the competition from middle school fundraising on limited community resources.

The system is heading to independent efforts by parents and clubs that will result in the district not having a say in student absence, team policy, eligibility and quality of supervision. But teams and kids will still travel.

Are middle school sports without one trip per sport the best we can do for our kids? And if that is the absolute best we can do, do we embrace it and move on?

If we value travel and other communities coming here in a reciprocal fashion, then how can we set up parameters to make this workable to have one trip per sport?

Teams and tournaments are going to go away.

Andy Lee has been pushing for an endowment fund.

He once asked Carlos Boozer for $500,000 for 10 years and after 10 years Carlos could have the principle back at 8-10 percent guaranteed on the sum. The plan had a matching sum, resulting in a million dollars bringing in interest for 10 years and then Juneau kids would benefit from just the principle over the next 50 years.

“I couldn’t get him to do it,” Lee said. “That was nine years ago. And now we still haven’t resolved the problem. If I had the answer I would tell you.”

Lee believes the votes in the past to keep the capital in Juneau were partly successful because students had these awesome shared experiences in each other’s homes, in competitions and towns and that these relationships grew politically and in the business community.

“This is going to hurt all of us,” Lee said. “But mostly it is going to hurt these adults who don’t know each other. In 20 years there won’t be any business relationships or political relationships.”

David Means, Juneau School District Director Of Middle School Services, confirmed the meeting on Wednesday between middle school administrators and district people.

“I wasn’t a participant in that meeting but I talked to a participant about this meeting,” Means said. “They agreed yesterday in that meeting to a no travel policy.”

The administrators agreed to a no travel policy for Dzantik’i Heeni on Wednesday also.

Means also said the district wants the middle school programs to operate similar to each other. “We do not want one school to be able to travel and another school not be able to travel. That would be an equity issue between the two schools.”

The budget passed for middle school activities next year and the amount supported by education money, was cut by half.

“There are still developing plans to meet the budget reduction as approved by the school board,” Means said. “The plans are still being developed. They are not there yet.”

And they will probably not be ready on Monday night.

“I would fully expect that they will be shared with the site councils once they are ready,” Means said. “That would make sense to me, but it might be the May council. They are going to have to look at a lot of things.”

And now there are a lot of holes to peer through...

With a lot of faces peering back...

Beginning with a site council meeting, open to the public, at Floyd Dryden Middle School library at 5 p.m. on Monday.

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