2015-07-17 / Front Page

Middle school sports cuts are criticized

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Flanked by classmates, Zach Greely, an eighth grader at Mahoney Middle School, addresses the school board at its meeting Monday, July 13, about the consolidation of sports teams from Mahoney and Memorial middle schools, saying it would be a shame to cut in half the number of spots available for those who try-out at either school. "Sports help teach teamwork and sportsmanship, and promote physical fitness," he said. "We believe taking sports away from half the students who want to participate is not a good decision." (photo courtesy SPCTV) Flanked by classmates, Zach Greely, an eighth grader at Mahoney Middle School, addresses the school board at its meeting Monday, July 13, about the consolidation of sports teams from Mahoney and Memorial middle schools, saying it would be a shame to cut in half the number of spots available for those who try-out at either school. "Sports help teach teamwork and sportsmanship, and promote physical fitness," he said. "We believe taking sports away from half the students who want to participate is not a good decision." (photo courtesy SPCTV) SOUTH PORTLAND — A plan to consolidate athletic teams at South Portland’s two middle schools suffered sharp criticism from students, parents and even a few coaches at Monday’s meeting of the school board.

According to school board Chairman Richard Matthews, the cuts were suggested in February by Athletic Director Todd Livingston. Merging boys and girls soccer and basketball teams at Mahoney Middle School and Memorial Middle School into single teams serving both saved $24,000 in the current school budget, Matthews said. However, he stressed the change was precipitated by declining enrollment, not as a means to save money, he said.

The move follows a similar consolidation last spring of middle school baseball, softball and lacrosse teams. Livingston was not at Monday’s school board meeting and did not reply to email or voicemail messages Tuesday.

Although Matthews said he objected to the change when it was proposed in February, and debated in March, he was somewhat surprised to find nearly 50 protestors at Monday’s board meeting.

“We didn't have a large outpouring of parent concern at that time,” he said. “I didn't want that cut, but that's my personal view. As chairman of the board, I respected Todd Livingston’s take on it and his view of what's best for the programs.”

Still, parents did protest, once word began to circulate of the change. At Monday’s meeting, the parade of speakers opposed to the consolidation commanded the microphone for nearly 30 minutes, having waited patiently until meeting’s end for a chance to address topics not on that night’s agenda.

“This would seriously limit the number of young athletes participating in school sports and it will ultimately diminish the quality of athletics at South Portland High School,” said one parent, Kimberly Mayone, striking what became a familiar refrain.

“My middle schooler goes to school so he can play sports,” Mayone said. “He comes home from practice, sits at the table, has something to eat, and does his homework, and he does that, and does his habits of work, because he wants to be on the team.”

However, even with declining enrollment, truncating from two teams to one means fewer students will have an opportunity to play.

“To give basketball as one example,” said Rachel Flaherty, a parent and teacher in the system. “If all boys and girls who tried out for seventh-grade basketball last year, try out again next year for their eighth-grade teams, there will be 39 boys and 37 girls competing for 12 spots on teams of each gender. So, 27 boys and 25 girls will be cut.

“I know students who are cut do have to opportunity to play for (Amateur Athletic Union) or rec teams,” Flaherty said, “but for many families (Amateur Athletic Union) is just too expensive. Rec sports can be great opportunities, but that’s assuming families have flexible work schedules and reliable transportation.”

Although the school board made no reply to the public comments, Matthews said the protest may well result in board action — to revisit the cuts, at least.

“They got the attention of a few board members and I can see this being discussed in the future,” he said. “I asked (interim Superintendent) Kathy (Germani) to talk to Todd (Livingston), as well.

“I respect Todd and respect Todd’s decisions. I don't want to come across that I'm at odds with him at all. But if the numbers presented by parents are accurate, maybe its worth taking a second look at.”

What remains an open question, however, is how the school department might fund any restored teams, now that the budget is set, and whether there’s time enough, at this point, to re-add either middle school to the intermural schedule.

Still, Matthews suggested if there’s a will, there’s a way.

“You know as well as I do that anything is possible in this world,” Matthews said.

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