Sports cuts are all talk so far at Modesto-area schools

Most of us have heard a great deal about students and teachers going to board meetings to protest decisions about cutting back funding to music, art and elective programs, but what of sports?

You may have heard rumors about draining the pools, getting rid of freshman sports, eliminating coaching stipends or making certain sports available at select schools to save money. But how much of that is true?

"There's a lot of discussion on the topic in Modesto City Schools, but nothing has been ratified yet," said Jim Davis, Johansen High School athletic director. "There have been no final decisions made, and it's all still up in the air right now."

Beyer High athletic director Paul Cornwell reports that "schools won't know about the bargaining results for next year until sometime in May."

Coach Mick Tate of Pitman High said Turlock schools are safe.

"Turlock school sports have not been affected at all by the cuts," he said. "The programs are all staying the same, and freshman programs have not been cut due to budgets. It helps that student athletes have a sense of pride in their programs."

The biggest worries may be the uncertainty for students in middle school, the younger siblings of current athletes, or aspiring elementary school athletes. Some families fear their younger children may not have the same sports opportunities in the coming years.

Said Davis, "As athletic director, I probably have three or four sets of parents coming to me each season wanting to talk about the prospects of freshman sports, or if specific sports will be cut, and it's sad because we have to give them the same standard answer: 'We just don't know.' "

And as for booster programs? Despite the recession, schools in the area report strong community involvement and consistent sports booster funding. The volume of money may not be as great as it has been in the past, but the support is still there. Schools like Hilmar and Johansen, which hold fund-raising dinners and sell concessions at games, still bring in thousands of dollars throughout the course of the year.

Nearly every student athlete and coach will agree that sports (just like most extracurricular activities) are a positive way to develop youth in ways the classroom cannot. Said Johansen High swimming and water polo coach Brent Bohlender, "The rewards from school sports are astronomical. They compel students to keep up good grades, maintain good citizenship and develop lasting discipline."

Moral of the story: Get involved in a sports program and enjoy the benefits in physical and character development.

"One of the greatest frustrations is that we do have a wide variety of sports in our schools that cost money, but many kids still only go after the major sports and don't try the others out there," Bohlender said.

His advice to those not active on a team: Go out and explore the lesser-known sports to make use of the variety that's out there. It might get you off the couch or the bench and into the game.

Brian Lewis is a junior at Johansen High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program. Stephanie Rodin contributed to this report.