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Cameron Smith

School district mulls cutting all prep sports to close budget gap

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

There are few things in prep sports that seem unthinkable. The elimination of prep sports altogether is one of them.

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Amazingly, that's exactly what the Fontana (Calif.) Unified School District began considering Tuesday night, in more than a token way. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the district still needs to cut some $8 million to get in line with California's state-wide budget cuts, leaving Fontana to very seriously considering cutting practically all school activities that don't directly involve education.

As one might guess, the school district's athletic department is the most prominent one that falls under that category.

With word that the elimination of prep sports was to be considered at the meeting, athletes, coaches and athletic departments from all five of the city's high schools crowded in to make their presence heard. Their lobbying was effective in gaining at least a stay of execution for prep sports, as the motion to discontinue all the district's athletic programs was "tabled."

Yet, according to the Press-Enterprise, it's uncertain whether that tabling means that sports definitely won't be cut, as the Fontana school board could suddenly resurrect the issue and vote on it on at a future meeting.

"I think it's a done deal [that sports won't be eliminated]," Fontana (Calif.) Summit High athletic director Ed Kearby told the Press-Enterprise. "It could be brought back [as an action item], but anything can be brought back. I'm just really pleased with the show of support by our kids. Look at all of them in their [letterman's] jackets."

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As dramatic and over-the-top as cutting athletics may seem, it might not even be the most drastic cuts on the docket in Fontana. The school district is also reportedly considering cutting all library specialists and librarians, secretaries and counselors among others.

For a moment, try to get your head around having a school without any counselors with whom children can discuss emotional problems. In a sense, that takes away one of the fundamental roles of American schools; as a potential emotional and physical safe haven for children.

Then there are proposed cuts to transportation, which would make road games impossible even if athletics are kept on.

When those programs -- not to mention the district's alternative learning center and a handful of other long term initiatives -- on the chopping block, how can anyone reasonably advocate to keep a school's sports teams. How can a school have a football team without a functional library?

Those concerned with cuts in all those areas made their presence felt at Tuesday's meeting, though the cuts in athletics were clearly the most well represented by both students and adults (be they parents or coaches).

"I'd be very sad to see [the elimination of sports] happen," Summit football coach Tony Barile told the Press-Enterprise. "The reason I came to Fontana is because it has so much pride in its schools and the city. To see it come to this would be sad and I hope it doesn't happen.

"I didn't know we'd be the first ones (in the area) talking about this. The state of the budget is getting worse and worse and it's nerve-wracking and frustrating every single day. As a coach and a mentor you want to (positively) affect the lives of kids and to hear that you might not be able to is hard to swallow."

At the same time, is it possible to quantify the civic good created by an athletic department's role in the community? When people in Southern California think of Fontana, they think of the Fontana (Calif.) High Steelers, the A.B. Miller (Calif.) High Rebels (whose football team is pictured above), the Jurupa Hills (Calif.) Spartans, the Kaiser (Calif.) High Cats and the Summit (Calif.) High SkyHawks. With one fell swoop, the Fontana School District could all but neuter the school pride, even the very sense of collective identity of all five of the town's high schools' student bodies.

Then there's the health risks that will come with increasingly sedentary student bodies, none of whom will have sports to play. As scary and far fetched as it all may seem, it's still on the cards in one California district, and may soon be in others as well.

While Fontana may be the first district to openly consider cutting all sports on the records, it's hardly alone in considering drastic measures to close huge gaps in its budget. While not nearly as drastic as the cuts in Fontana, the school district in Cuero, Texas is openly considering severe cuts in transportation that would limit its sports teams' (and other extracurricular activities') ability to travel for competitions.

Regardless of what the future holds for Fontana and other budget-crushed districts, one thing is certain: Those involved in prep athletics won't let them be eliminated without their voices being heard.

Said Fontana High senior outfielder Jorge Ortiz, who attended the meeting in his maroon and white Steeler baseball uniform: "Sports help kids. They help us stay on track and keep our grades up. I've learned a lot of lessons from my coach (Brandon Colbrunn), like picking myself up when I fall down and trying my hardest and keeping my grades up."

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