A proposal to eliminate ninth-grade sports next year in Frederick County Public Schools is drawing mixed reaction from school officials and parents.
Schools Superintendent Theresa R. Alban’s proposed $547.3-million spending plan for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, calls for the elimination of ninth-grade boys football and boys and girls basketball, cutting the programs in all 10 of the system’s high schools.
The proposal would save $49,158.
The Frederick County Board of Education voted Jan. 23 to take Alban’s budget to a public hearing, which was scheduled for Wednesday after The Gazette’s deadline.
But some school officials and parents are concerned that the move would limit the number of students who would be able to participate in those sports.
“It would affect basketball more than it would affect football,” said Tim Ambrose, athletic director at Middletown High School. “In football, the ninth-graders would probably all get to play junior varsity. There would have to be more kids cut [in basketball] because you can’t keep more than 12 on a court.”
Currently, freshaman boys football and basketball are available at all county high schools. In addition, some high school’s also have freshman girls basketball teams.
The freshmen sports program serves as a way to develop younger players, said Steve Nibbs, athletic director at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.
“Looking at it from the standpoint of a freshman coming in, there may not be as many coming out [for basketball tryouts] because they will be competing against the 10th-graders,” Nibbs said. “You never want to see programs cut because of the role it can play in students’ [lives]. ... It would be unfortunate for those kids, but we would absorb them into the junior-varsity teams.”
At Walkersville High School, the ninth-grade boys basketball team is an important resource for the varsity team, head varsity coach Ryan Burkey said.
“[The cuts] would impact us because right now we are able to keep up to 15 freshmen and develop them,” he said. “We won’t be able to develop as many players [and] that’s critical for a small school like us because we rely on that.”
In the past, the funds allocated for ninth-grade sports were used to pay for transportation and fees for sports officials, but a lack of interest in some of the programs has spurred the school system to consider their elimination.
Leslie Pellegrino, the school system’s executive director of fiscal services, said officials decided to cut ninth-grade sports in lieu of increasing activity fees — which are currently $90 per student each season.
“We have seen over the last several years that we have been over budget in our sports,” Pellegrino said. “We’ve been trying to mitigate that.”
All of the high schools have ninth-grade boys basketball and football teams this school year, but five of the schools were not able to field enough players for girls basketball, said Perry Baker, school system supervisor of athletics and extracurricular activities.
“We felt that it’s not eliminating sports as a whole, so students can still participate, but this is helping with the cost,” Pelligrino said.
High schools that couldn’t field teams included Urbana, Brunswick, Tuscarora, Walkersville and Middletown.
“I think sports are really important for the kids,” said Nancy Copen of Walkersville, mother of freshman basketball player Chris Copen. “A lot of the kids don’t get physical activity elsewhere without being involved in sports.”
Ambrose said that the move to eliminate ninth-grade programs is nothing new.
“Getting rid of ninth-grade sports has always been brought up when there’s a budget crunch,” he said. “[But] we’ll roll with the punches, whatever the board wants to do.”
Jane Beck, the mother of another Walkersville basketball player, said that she would understand if the board allowed the elimination of the ninth-grade sports program.
“I would be disappointed, but I understand that you have to save money some place,” she said. “Tough choices have to be made.”
County school board member April Miller said it would be “unfortunate” if students were not able to participate in some sports programs because of the cuts to ninth-grade teams.
“I put a high priority on things that impact students,” she said. “[Ninth-grade sports] will be one of those categories that we look more in depth at when we look at the budget. Maybe we could look at different ways to fund them.”