Two schools, two programs, one very big sports dilemma

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2007

A giant concrete and steel elephant in the room of Juneau's high school sports landscape is taking a nice nap in the Mendenhall Valley.

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That elephant will wake up next fall as Thunder Mountain High School opens with the admirable goal of getting as many kids involved in school activities as possible. What will go on there in terms of academics, extra curricular activities and athletics, however, remains largely up in the air.

While talks of academies, intramural athletics and sports teams surround both TMHS and Juneau-Douglas High School, those who coach, play and volunteer with the Crimson Bears' sports teams are waiting to see what will happen to them once the TMHS Falcons come to town.

Anyone who's ever played high school athletics in Juneau or has a child involved in JDHS athletics knows that sports here are just a little different. Year-long fundraising - from program advertisement sales to dessert auctions - provide the vast majority of money for the teams.

According to Juneau Empire reporter Greg Skinner's story on Dec. 5, it costs the community $1.8 million yearly to fund high school sports and activities at JDHS. The Juneau School District kicks in just $75,000.

It doesn't take a student in an advanced mathematics academy to realize $75,000 barely makes a dent in $1.8 million.

Think about that amount of money for a second.

Assume that Thunder Mountain High School decides to have everything Juneau-Douglas High School offers - football, art, hockey, music, etc. That's another $1,725,000 the hard-working citizens of Juneau, Douglas and Auke Bay will need to give, assuming the Juneau School District doubles its $75,000 contribution, to keep all of the activities at each school going.

That's $3,450,000 our town of about 30,000 residents needs to come up with so our athletes, actors, singers, trombone players, artists and young scientists can travel. It also includes paying teams to come to Juneau for games - a common practice for most of the Crimson Bears' squads.

For that to work, every man, woman and child in town needs to kick in about $115 each.

If that's the case, Thunder Mountain better have an academic academy focused on sales and marketing because any athlete will need to become seasoned salespeople to bring in that kind of money.

There are a few options I've come up with, however, which could help. These are my own opinions and may or may not work. However, it's time all of us started looking at options no matter how extreme they may be.

1. Don't let Thunder Mountain High School join the Alaska School Activities Association.

Once TMHS joins ASAA, no student in the valley school can participate in any activity - sports or otherwise - at JDHS. If TMHS opts not to join ASAA, though, those students can participate in everything JDHS offers. This is true of Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School, which is not affiliated with ASAA.

While it makes sense financially, it may be pretty hard to justify building a brand, spanking new school with a gymnasium and multipurpose track and field without fielding their very own Falcons.

Also, why have a mascot if everyone's going to be a Crimson Bear anyway?

2. Bump up the sales tax.

If asking everyone to donate $115 is too much, then we can just take the money off the top via an increased sales tax. Increasing Juneau's 5-percent sales tax could fund everything the school district wants. This would mostly eliminate the need for year-round fundraising and allow coaches and volunteers to better serve the students.

However, it's always dicey to ask the public to increase taxes. With gas still hovering above $3 a gallon and affordable housing in short supply, a new tax may not be the most popular option.

Proponents can play the "it's for the children" card all they want, but eventually taxpayers will put their collective foot down.

3. Think smaller.

This option, in my opinion, may be the most reasonable.

With this option, Thunder Mountain will offer no sports its first year and gradually work its way up to varsity status in basketball, wrestling, track, swimming, cross country, baseball, softball and volleyball by the 2011-2012 school year. This would give TMHS and JDHS four years to gradually work out schedules, figure out what is feasible in terms of funding and build a foundation for the future.

Football and hockey will remain at JDHS because it would simply be too expensive to field two teams.

Basketball and volleyball for JDHS and TMHS will then move from Class 4A to Class 3A. This would allow the Falcons and Crimson Bears to pick up conference games against Mount Edgecumbe, Metlakatla, Craig, Haines, Petersburg and Wrangell. Currently, only Ketchikan and Sitka play Class 4A basketball and volleyball in Southeast Alaska. By doing this, local teams would only need to pick up four to six non-conference games as opposed to the 14 to 16 games currently needed to fill out the schedule. This would save a significant amount of money previously used to fly local teams to places like Anchorage and ship opponents to Juneau.

The obvious drawback to this is that Juneau sports will no longer be butting heads against the state's biggest and strongest.

However, it may be the best option to save the most money, keep most of the sports programs intact and give kids the most opportunities to stay involved in school.

• Have any ideas on how you would solve the athletic dilemma? Check out sports editor Tim Nichols' blog at and add your suggestions. We'll print some of the best opinions and ideas in a future edition. Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or

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