OUR CORNER: Cutting athletics in Sports Town USA? It could happen

Some tough decisions lie ahead for the Kent School Board.

Specifically, where to trim the budget if the district’s state funding is reduced by the anticipated $12 million to $16 million for next school year. In preparation for that possibility, several options have been put on the table totaling $32 million.

And right now, part of that axe is hovering over the playing field of Sports Town USA — literally. The Kent School District is currently considering the possibility of eliminating some middle school and lower-level high school sports programs for the coming school year, an option that would save the district $716,000.

You can make your voice heard during a pair of upcoming meetings — Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at Kent-Meridian and Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at Kentwood.

What kind of impact would this have?

For starters, those kids who attend school for the sole purpose of playing sports wouldn’t be nearly as inclined to show up. And like it or not, plenty of these kids exist.

Sure, it can be argued that these kids in particular are going to school for the wrong reason. But if athletics is a carrot that needs to be dangled to keep a kid in the classroom, show me the garden and I’ll start digging.

I can’t imagine I’m alone on that front.

“If you can keep a kid in school because of a round ball, you’re ahead of the game,” said Kentlake football coach Mike Shepard. “I just as soon have the kid there working toward some semblance of an education than not be there at all.”

But the impact of cutting programs goes much deeper than simply affecting those who are kept in school through the athletic arena. Many coaches, who hardly make a dime (literally) for the countless number of hours they log, would be lost. Meanwhile, opportunities would be considerably diminished for kids who otherwise would be competing for programs that have been eliminated.

One of the options on the table right now, which would cut $716,000 from the budget, would eliminate all freshmen and sophomore teams at the high school level. In addition, it would cut all seventh grade and junior varsity teams at the middle school level.

“Nothing has reached a final determination at this point,” stressed Dave Lutes, the district athletic director. “The only thing we do know is there will be some budget cuts.”

From a competitive standpoint, making these cuts would essentially decimate the South Puget Sound League North Division, home of all four Kent-based schools. Take a quick look around the state and you’ll notice the high schools that enjoy the most success typically have solid feeder programs from the middle schools.

In contrast, the schools that have little or no middle school programs to draw from struggle simply to compete.

These potential cuts would more than whittle down current programs to nothing.

“Your elite athletes are the ones who would survive,” said Lutes. “Your other kids who participate and have fun are the ones who would really be affected.”

Which, in some circles, has raised the notion for athletes to pay for play. I can safely file this one in the trash can sitting next to me. Because what “play for pay” essentially does is allow the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer. And during our current economic crisis, the last thing any mom or dad needs is another bill.

But what is most frustrating is the trickle-down effect that could take place. With a 7 percent jobless rate in Washington right now, I’d surmise that the last thing any parent wants is for their child to be directly impacted.

Yet, this possible move would wipe many of those children right off the map.

Right off the map of Sports Town USA.