The evening I attended a recent buffet hosted by a group of nice people with intentions to raise funds for a good cause, little did I realize those “nice people” would be volunteering for another 15 to 20 events before the end of the year.
It only took a short time to figure out why there were so many people at this buffet. These were the dozens of Southington’s middle school parents who had two choices forced upon them by the Board of Education.
Either keep their children occupied without sports or help to raise $50,000 to $60,000 a year to pay the expenses for sports at Kennedy and DePaolo middle schools. The choice was not easy. Did it matter if these youngsters didn’t play volleyball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse or any other after-school activity?
The group formally organized was named the Save Middle School Sports Association. The folks didn’t picket the Board of Education, nor did any change their political party.
The school board would provide no funds to pay coaches, buy equipment if needed, and pay game officials. Not enough money to go around, the board said.
The parents tried to be accepting, but could not relinquish a parental responsibility that, individually, they believed athletics was too important to wait for money to fall from the sky. They understood Southington has a large school enrollment, lots of schools, lots of teachers and so forth. These upset parents knew the state of Connecticut had earmarked the town as one that would receive far less than ever before.
Mike DeFeo is a community activist, which usually means he loves Southington and gets involved with volunteerism. He has no children in the schools now, but spent years watching his sons excel from middle to high school. Yet, DeFeo rallied the troops and soon concerned parents joined the effort to try to raise enough money to keep the youths playing sports.
DeFeo said $93,000 was the initial goal, but financial donations in town and grants lowered their money goal to around $60,000. That amount would take close to 20 pasta fundraisers. That effort would also necessitate dozens of volunteers and patrons to buy those raffle tickets that also meant asking merchants to donate items.
More than 450 kids are benefiting and perhaps 600 more who watch the games, DeFeo reports.
DeFeo and newly elected leader Dave Marek have indicated how sports allow young athletes to develop lifelong habits of physical activity that will benefit them later in life. Playing sports in middle school teaches teamwork and persistence to succeed. Plenty of studies have shown that middle school sports participants do better in the classroom.
After raising funds for fall and winter sports, the group must continue its fundraising for this fall. “We probably need 25 more events,” said DeFeo, who boasted of the devotion of the parents.
The Board of Education, critics maintain, is getting a free ride from parents on this matter.
One parent vocally was not shy about the decision to cut funding for middle school sports. “The more money we raise and the harder we work, the less the board will include money in the budget, We spoiled them.”
In fairness, the school men were again rejected by the finance board for additional funds. The superintendent has requested a $3 million increase to $97.3 million for its budget, but was granted $95,312,329. Reports are circulating that budget cuts for 2019 may include varsity-level sports.
I don’t believe taxpayers will sit back and allow those Blue Knight uniforms to sit in the SHS storerooms all year.
So far, the town has rallied behind these parents. However, how long can pasta nights, car washes be supported financially by attendees? How many times will local nonprofit organizations continue to donate?
Then, the big challenge. How many new parents of middle school-age youngsters will replace those whose children will be entering high school?
Members of the Board of Education are obviously sensitive to the group, but Southington has taken its athletic programs very seriously for decades.
Can money or the lack of money, someday force even varsity athletes to pay $500 to $600 just to play on a team?
In the meantime, citizens will support the Save Middle School Sports Association, trying to avoid the reality of not enough money to support athletics….at least according to Board of Education. Stay tuned for another fundraiser.