By Dan Hardenbrook

After news broke last week that the Tahquamenon Area Schools (TAS) Board of Education was considering a massive cut to the athletic department for the second straight year, reactions were highly emotional. Sadness, disappointment, and anger were among the feelings on full display as a large crowd came rallying together, as Newberry does, to plead for the programs that mean so much to so many.

I thought about using this space, which is offered up to me to share my opinions weekly, to make another public plea for support. However, the meeting was recorded and is available on the Newberry News Facebook page so people can catch up. A large majority of the supporters were against any cuts whatsoever, and while the board listened intently, people one by one took the microphone and made the message quite simple.

So I won’t use this space to re-state my thoughts and those of others at the meeting. Instead I offer this:

As Board President Stuart McTiver said at the beginning of Thursday’s special session, when a $16,000 cut to athletics was approved alongside a 39% bump for administration, this wasn’t a debate about keeping or cutting specific sports.

Sports has a phrase: “the numbers don’t lie!”

It doesn’t take a math degree to see the connection between athletics and academic achievement. Our student athletes averaged a higher GPA than any other in the region last school year and were recognized and awarded for it. When kids play sports, they are more likely to graduate and proceed to college. Sports provide structure that some desperately need. It has turned around and literally saved young lives. It boosts the school’s image and brings in money for the district and the local businesses that we ask all too often for donations to keep sports programs alive.

Yes, as McTiver stated, this isn’t all about athletics, because the arts and trades are in jeopardy all the time. I recently stood in a half-completed concession building being constructed by TAS teacher Linus Parr on his own time. I didn’t know what went where because classes like wood shop weren’t an option for me during school. Those programs and classes are often first to go because school officials look at children as if they are dollar signs instead of human beings.

Trade programs, music, art, and athletics may not contribute to test scores that can impress others, but they make up more than they are worth in student engagement and enrichment. Kids with good grades and test scores are going to go on and do amazing things. They will do just fine.

But what about the kids who struggle in class, or can’t afford college. What about the kid that is putting his future plans on hold to work and take care of his family or ease the burden on their household expenses. That instrument, those tools, the sports teams that you are considering taking away may be their only ticket out. And for a school district that often refers to students by their per pupil amount from the state instead of their names, any programs that keep kids coming back each day should be held in greater importance.

This isn’t just an athletics issue. The entire budget is broken.

Cuts were also made to operations and maintenance, despite the multimillion-dollar bond project TAS has underway to upgrade facilities that were not previously maintained or repaired properly.
Multiple teaching positions have been consolidated or remain unfilled while the district adds employees to the central office, or dumps money to the ISD for services that qualified people in town have offered to provide. That takes teachers and resources out of our classrooms.

This is much larger than athletics, because we are driving students away with no plan to keep them here or bring back those that have jumped off the sinking ship.

The baseball team that I coach just went through a season where we did not win any games. But the memories made, bonds formed, lessons learned, and character growth will last way longer than any win could. Those are also more valuable than what we fail to make on admission fees to games or profits from a concession stand.

I’m not saying athletics is the answer, but I know it also isn’t the problem.