The school district comments line (firstname.lastname@example.org) for school board members has been getting several messages regarding the “Freshman No Cut Sports Program.” Regardless of what happens with the operating referendum on May 24th, this particular program will cease to exist. The Freshman No Cut Sports program has been a staple in the school district for over 20 years. This program is indeed another causality of the state imposed revenue caps. Unfortunately because of the school district’s severe budget constraints, I find it very difficult to justify the programs continuance in its current form.
This Freshman No Cut Sports guarantees 9th grade high school students the opportunity to participate in athletics. Primarily this program involves the creation of extra teams in boys and girls basketball and girls volleyball (and maybe soccer, too). For example, if there were 60 students who wanted to participate in a sport the district would create four teams (or 15 students per team – depending on the sport). Two of those teams would participate in a “high level competitive environment” by playing against other teams from the Big 8 conference such as other Madison schools, Middleton, Sun Prairie, Beloit and Janesville. These would be your more athletically gifted players. The other teams called “Metro” teams play an abbreviated schedule against other Madison schools and perhaps Middleton. Players on these teams would be considered “less athletically gifted.” Given that the school board increased the activity fee to $115 per sport, you have to ask yourself are those athletes getting their monies worth and can the taxpaying community support the perception of another “extra activity” for the school district?
Last fall, Superintendent Art Rainwater developed a task force of athletic directors, booster club members and coaches to make recommendations regarding the future of sports programming in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). One of their many recommendations was to eliminate the “Freshman No Cut Sports” program and replace it with an “extra-mural” program where students would have a limited schedule of playing against other students. This program would still have the same effect related to the district’s Educational Framework of Engagement, Learning and Relationships, however, it would be funded and conducted differently. At the same time, the MMSD will continue to honor its Big 8 conference contractual agreements to provide freshman and junior varsity teams in most sports when applicable.
I believe that MMSD staff, booster clubs and members of the school board are working diligently to continue to provide extracurricular activities for students of all ability levels. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to provide this experience to as many students as in the past in the same format. In the future, I will recommend a fee increase in some sports as well as admission prices. In addition, I believe that the school board will have to evaluate its policies related to business partnerships (advertising and program underwriting) to continue to support athletic programming and other extracurricular activities. Also, partnerships will have to be developed and strengthened with community organizations such as the YMCA, Little Leagues, neighborhood centers, and other community athletic organizations to augment school programs that the district doesn’t have the capacity or the fiscal budget to continue.
We are in a very difficult situation that doesn’t look to be getting any better soon. I agree that athletics plays a very important part in the lives of students. But so do many other academic and extracurricular activities. Sadly, I say goodbye to “Freshman No Cut Sports.” It provided many students the opportunity for not only athletic enjoyment but helped in developing social and team building skills as well. Just like strings, it was a program that made the MMSD special. It will be missed.