Jacksonville plans to cut all school sports in 2011-12

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Last week, Prep Rally wrote about how the Fontana (Calif.) Independent School District is wrestling with limited funding for its sports programs, a concern that led the district to consider canceling all sports in 2011 and beyond. Well, now a much larger school district is doing more than just considering cutting all athletic funding, it's promising it will do so.

Atlantic Coast High School football practice
Atlantic Coast High School football practice

According to the Florida Times-Union, the Duval County School Board's chairman is already claiming there is absolutely no way that the district's public schools will be able to operate in fall 2011, bringing an end to all school sports in a huge district that includes Jacksonville, one of the state's larger cities.

"It's a horrible situation," Duval County School Board Chairman W.C. Gentry told the Times-Union. "There's no question we'll have to do away with sports. We're fighting just to preserve the accreditation of our schools. There's no good news right now. We've been cutting for the last three years, so this isn't a one-time hit. There simply isn't anything left to cut that isn't part of the core curriculum. It's an ugly picture."

The complete athletic demolition is being brought on by an astounding $97 million budget shortfall in Duval County, which follows on the heels of five straight years of budget cutbacks in the district. While county athletic director Jon Fox is continuing to fill out schedules for the district's 2011 fall seasons, including the one for the Atlantic Coast (Fla.) High football team pictured above and below, he said he wasn't optimistic that the seasons would be saved.

"This one is as bad as it could be," Fox told the Times-Union. "When you think about the impact a coach can have on a kid, it just breaks my heart that we're in this position. Kids are different human beings because of the athletic experience.

"We'll continue to prepare for next year. We'll fill out our schedules. Right now, it's scary."

Atlantic Coast High School Stingrays Football.
Atlantic Coast High School Stingrays Football.

The Florida High Schools Athletic Association said that Duval County is the only district currently planning to cut all sports in 2011-12, though others could follow to try and come in line with drastic budget cuts across the state being pushed by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Still, even if Jacksonville schools are the only ones to have all sports go by the wayside, the elimination of Duval County schools will have a profound state-wide effect on other programs, with their absence forcing district realignments in nearly all high school sports.

Add to that inconvenience the re-scheduling madness that would ensue to fill vacant dates scheduled for games against Jacksonville schools, and it's clear that losing a city worth of prep sports teams will dramatically change the Florida high school sports landscape.

While the cancelled seasons might save the state some money, those revenues will come at the direct cost of the district's best athletes. According to the Times-Union, more than 50 different First Coast (Fla.) High students signed collegiate letters of intent in Florida alone, a group of scholarships worth nearly $450,000.

Considering the fact that there are 12 different high schools in the Duval County district, it's not a stretch to say that students may lose as much as $3 million to $5 million in scholarship money in the Class of 2012 alone.

Those financial incentives barely scratch the surface of all the other benefits that sports bring to Jacksonville teenagers, as two coaches made abundantly clear to Times-Union columnist Gene Frenette.

Atlantic Coast football coach Kevin Sullivan and Wolfson basketball coach Bruce Rosebrock didn't mince words. They were incensed that such a fundamental part of any public school system could simply vanish.

"Athletics is the greatest dropout prevention that we have," said Sullivan. "It's asinine [to drop sports]. If the School Board does that, they've lost all touch of reality with this generation. [Sports] is what drives a lot of our kids. It's the carrot for them to do well in school and for coaches to maintain discipline over them."

"You thought you saw bad FCAT scores before? Just wait," Rosebrock added. "You take away sports and watch how low the FCAT scores drop. I had a lot of guys who had marginal [grade point averages], but the threat of losing their eligibility got them into the classroom and got their GPA over a 2.0 because they wanted to play sports. You take sports away, and you'll lose those kids. They won't have the motivation to get the GPAs up. We'll lose them to the streets."

Rosebrock's rant didn't stop there. He also had a message for the high-level administrators, saying: "Something is wrong when you have a School Board sitting on millions of dollars of property value and you want to take sports away because there is no money? This would be one of the dumbest things I've ever seen if they drop sports. You want to hurt our future just so we can stay in a big posh building on valuable land like that."

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