When the Hood River County School Board was faced with budgeting for a nearly $2 million shortfall two years ago, a variety of programs and services faced the chopping block. Among the restructurings, reductions and eliminations the board was faced with, axing middle school sports would save the district about $100,000 for the budget cycle.
With federal funding cut from school districts across the state and the nation, Hood River County School District was not alone in the sacrifice. Other districts in the Mt. Hood League — of which Hood River and Wy’east middle schools belonged — made similar decisions to eliminate funding for middle school sports programs.
The first year following the cut, HRCSD came up with $30,000 to dedicate to running middle school sports, while the responsibility for managing programs was shifted to the Community Education department. Last year, that $30,000 was also cut, leaving essentially no district funding for athletic programs that hundreds of young residents participate in each season.
With volunteer coaches and a handful of exceptionally dedicated community members, programs were kept alive despite the financial hardships. In the 2011-12 school year, students had the opportunity to compete on cross-country, football, volleyball, basketball and wrestling teams.
Of those teams, this spring the eighth-grade Wy’east boys basketball team went undefeated (16-0) to win the league championship and the Wy’east/HRMS combined eighth-grade boys track team went on to win the league and state championship titles.
After news of the funding cuts, Best Western Hood River Inn General Manager Chuck Hinman and Riverside Grill Chef Mark DeResta came up with an idea to donate proceeds from the restaurant’s kids meal sales to help fund 2011-12 middle school sports programs. In about a year, that figure grew to nearly $30,000.
“I remember when I was in middle school, how big of a part of our youth sports programs were,” Hinman said. “We followed the district’s funding cuts and decided that helping the sports program was something we could get our arms around.”
The Inn and restaurant pledged to donate 100-percent of its $5 kid meal sales to a Community Education fund dedicated to middle school sports programs.
“Making significant reductions to the school district budget has been a difficult process,” Charlie Beck, superintendent of Hood River County School District, said after learning of the campaign. “To gain this kind of support from a local business is amazing.”
The funds were donated to Community Education on a quarterly basis and were used to help facilitate programs and pay for expenses such as coaches, officials and transportation.
Hinman said that although the program might change, it will continue in some fashion for the next school year.