By HENRY BURTON
Special to the News
I am devastated. There is no other way to describe the feeling that hit me.
During French class this morning, I found out that Hood River County School District is considering cutting all individual school sports. Cross country, swimming, skiing, lacrosse, golf, and tennis are all likely to be eliminated for next year. This leaves football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, wrestling, track, baseball, and softball.
The school board sprung this announcement on the high school with no warning. Students and teachers alike were astounded. While I understand that the school board has not yet decided to cut high school sports, the fact that the district is considering cutting sports is disturbing enough. With the school district facing a deficit of $2.5 million dollars, I am certain these cuts will soon be final.
I am personally shocked and disappointed, because I am a swimmer. I have swum competitively for many years and I have devoted countless hours to my chosen sport. When I joined the high school team my freshman year, I discovered that high school swimming is great fun. It reignited my desire to swim, and I recommitted myself, with the goal of the OSAA state championships in mind. I have improved considerably in the last two years, and this year I qualified for the state meet and finished tenth in the 100 butterfly, my best event.
But the feeling that hit me this morning is not just a personal disappointment. It was the realization that, undeniably, my school had been dismembered and left to bleed to death. Until today, there was a semblance of normalcy at school. Students walked through the halls, went to classes, ate lunch, and waited for the bell to ring; after school, many students went to practice. One could ignore that fact that classrooms were packed with 30 students and that the school day is four days shorter this year. One could pretend that life went on and that students were getting a decent education. But this dispelled all such illusions.
The decision to cut sports will affect hundreds of students. Already, school sports at HRVHS had been hurt by our change to the Intermountain Conference, and this year participation in sports was low. But this decision will destroy the opportunity for many student athletes to play sports. Sports are about working hard and playing hard. Sports let us set goals and strive to achieve. Sports allow students to relax, get exercise, and develop as a whole person. Sports are a universal equalizer: they give students of all abilities a chance to excel. Athletics “are the stuff dreams are made of.”
For better or worse, America is a sports-loving nation. I don’t believe in professional sports. I don’t appreciate professional athletes who get paid obscene salaries to disgrace the game and their country. I am not a regular attendee at high school sports events. But I do believe that high school sports are an integral and essential part of public education.
Sports are important for the healthy development of the individual and for the health of the high school community. Too many Americans already suffer heart disease and other weight-related illnesses. Sports foster active lifestyles and promote long-lasting health. Swimming keeps me active and healthy. Sports promote physical and social development to complement emotional and mental development during high school. Without sports, the school is not whole. Sports give students a reason to be proud of their school, and they get kids involved in school activities. Most importantly, sports keep kids in school. Students will do surprising things to stay eligible for sports. When school is bad, sports are the lifeline. For me, swimming makes high school worthwhile.
Apparently, the school board intends to cut all individual sports, on the rationale that students could continue to do those sports without school sponsorship. This is fallacy, the flimsiest of all rationalizations. Sports, whether “individual” or “team,” teach kids to work and play on teams.
All high school sports are team sports. I love high school swimming precisely because it gives me an opportunity to swim on a team. I love the team spirit and support, an atmosphere club swimming doesn’t provide. And while private clubs offer opportunities for some sports, club sports are expensive. Many students will be priced out of sports without public funding.
As much as I believe in high school sports as a critical element of public education, I understand that the district has an obligation to educate students. Before it cuts teachers and prevents kids from learning to read and write, the district must cut sports. Thus, the only responsible course of action is to cut all school sports. It is unfair to choose some sports over others. If student athletes must suffer, let the pain be felt equally.
In a year and a half, I will be in college. I will leave Hood River and leave high school behind. I am confident that with the education I receive at HRVHS I will be well prepared for any college. But what else will I take with me? Is high school merely preparation for college and life, to be forgotten when we leave? What about proud accomplishments and treasured memories? I love Hood River, and I intend to return. I don’t want to return to see an empty shell of a high school and a heartless community.
Sadly, all this is being shattered for the lack of a few thousand dollars. Cutting half the high school sports will save the district $64,000. In the grand scheme of things, this is pennies. Out of a state budget of $11 billion, Hood River County School District needs just $64,000 more to continue to give its students a chance to run, swim, ski, play tennis, and simply have fun. This is not government; it is neglect. I ask the legislature and the governor, “Have you gone mad? Have you forgotten?”
This is not leadership, it is abandonment. Of the 90 legislators, and the governor, is there no one who played high school sports? Is there no one with the courage to stand up for public schools? The time for compromise is past. Now, our “leaders” must stand and deliver. If they cannot, they must resign.
Brother Ted, can you spare a dime?
Henry Burton is a junior at HRVHS.