Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Fairfax, Two Sports In Jeopardy

In Fairfax, Two Sports In Jeopardy
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 20, 2008; E01

Fairfax County high school gymnastics and indoor track could be eliminated when the 2010 budget is adopted in May as the school district copes with a $170 million shortfall. School officials say the measure would affect about 2,600 athletes and save the county an estimated $471,000.

Schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale unveiled three budget proposals at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting last week. Each proposal called for gymnastics to be cut; indoor track would be nixed in the most severe proposal, which also included cuts of $219 million and the elimination of 1,500 county schools positions.

"There are going to be cuts," said Fairfax County Director of Student Activities Bill Curran, noting most of the cuts are not related to athletics. "We're looking at taking the impacts that we can survive and maintaining as many of our programs as we can."

Such a move, made in a county that has been ranked among the nation's wealthiest and with 24 of its 25 schools appearing on Newsweek's 2008 list of America's Top Public High Schools, is a consequence of the nation's economic crisis. Fairfax, a county with a median household income of more than $100,000, has experienced a steep decline in housing prices and anticipated property tax revenue, according to Curran.

"It simply isn't realistic to think we can operate with vast budget cuts and not talk about the athletics. It's all got to go together," Curran said.

Fairfax, however, appears to be the only county in the Washington area willing to cut sports. School athletic officials in Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard, Anne Arundel, Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties, and Alexandria and the District say they do not plan to eliminate any high school sports.

All of those jurisdictions except Loudoun offer indoor track; in Maryland, only Montgomery and Anne Arundel offer gymnastics.

Curran said Fairfax targeted gymnastics and indoor track for cuts because there were other avenues for those athletes to compete. "Gymnastics has it at the private level [club gymnastics], and track really had it in the spring," Curran said. "There are still some opportunities to run in the spring and for distance runners to do cross-country in the fall." According to the FCPS schools' budget cut proposal, cutting track would shave $250,000.

"I don't know why track would be targeted. Think about it -- it's so simple. For a poor kid, all you need is a pair of shoes and a good coach," said Herndon's Peter Sherry, who coaches the school's indoor, outdoor and cross-country teams.

Gymnastics cuts would affect approximately 125 female athletes and save the county an additional $221,000 through the elimination of 25 head coaching supplements, 25 assistant coach supplements, officials fees and transportation. In Fairfax County, a head gymnastics coach is paid a $4,000 stipend.

"We've seen a steady decline in participation over the past seven or eight years," Curran said of gymnastics. "It's been on the table for the past few years."

Curran said that 14 of 25 Fairfax schools fielded gymnastics teams last winter. In 2002, Fairfax County had 21 active teams and had more than 200 girls participating.

"Because [gymnastics] is not in every school, not everyone supports it," said W.T. Woodson Coach Mike Cooper, whose teams have won more than two dozen local and state boys' and girls' titles in his 25-year career. "Because some schools don't have a team, it's easy to say, 'Yes, let's cut it.' The schools that have it and support the program see that it's beneficial."

About 2,500 students participate in indoor track, which has long served as a catch-all sport for athletes looking for a way to train during the offseason.

"All of the sudden you are sending 2,500 kids out into traffic, out into the streets with nothing to do," Sherry said.


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