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Local News

April 30, 2010

Modified sports out of the running in 3 district budgets

A tough economy and a big cut in state aid have forced some school districts across the state to take modified sports out of the game in the fall.

Locally, the districts of Newfane, Royalton-Hartland and Wilson have cut the program from their proposed 2010-11 budgets.

In modified sports, students in seventh through eighth grades compete against students from other districts, just like in varsity and junior varsity sports.

But faced with budget deficits in the millions, the schools have decided to end modified sports. It’s a trend that has been seen in a few other districts outside the area, Wilson Superintendent Michael Wendt said. Wendt is also the president of the New York State Section VI executive committee.

“There will definitely be an impact,” Wendt said. “We really support the whole education of a child, and it’s important to have these extras. But we’re in difficult times, and there are areas we need to cut back, not because we want to but because the situation has forced us to.”

Wendt estimates Wilson would save $20,000 to $30,000 from ending modified sports. Wilson’s $23.8 million budget took a hit of $1 million in state aid. The savings are similar in Roy-Hart ‘s $22.1 million budget and Newfane’s $32.4 million budget as well, who will be losing $1.5 million and $1.9 million in state aid, respectively.

Students can participate in modified football, volleyball, cross country, basketball, wrestling and track at Wilson and Newfane. Newfane and Roy-Hart had modified swim teams, while Roy-Hart also has modified basketball and track.

Some athletic directors have said the loss of modified sports could affect the play of future junior varsity and varsity teams. The modified program was seen as a feeder team, one that introduced players to interscholastic competition and taught students how to play their prospective sport.

However, schools are looking for ways to make up for that loss in experience for students. When presenting the budget to the public earlier this month, Newfane Superintendent Gary Pogorzelski said the district would focus on promoting intramurals for students. Intramurals are sports played within a school. Instead of competing against other schools, students compete against fellow students.

Newfane Athletic Director Douglas Ames said the district will be making its middle school intramural program more extensive and improving the curriculum for its physical education classes. Ames said discussions are already under way and details are being ironed out to set up the program in the school, which would mirror the intramural program at the high school.

“We’re giving that a shot,” Ames said. “Will it affect the (varsity, junior varsity) teams? Yes. But we’re hoping this will help us.”

In the new intramurals, students will have the chance to play field hockey, volleyball, cross country, soccer, swimming, basketball, baseball, softball, track and football. Football would be done seven on seven, instead of the usual 11 players competing against 11 players. While there won’t be a true offensive or defensive line, players still learn the fundamentals of the sport. That includes blocking and running routes, something modified teams would focus on.

Newfane is trying to be proactive, Ames said, and minimize what it’s losing in the modified program.

“It’s going to hurt, but times are tough — we have to go in a new direction and make changes,” Ames said.

Wendt said Wilson could use intramurals and its physical education programs to encourage students to be active. Students can also work on strength and speed, two things the modified program helps with, in their physical education classes.

Since state lawmakers haven’t approved a budget yet, final revenue numbers aren’t available, although it is very unlikely any school aid will be added.

“I’m confident we’ll do our best,” Wendt said.

Wilson has been a promoter of getting kids to be active, Wendt said. Still, the district has to be financially responsible and keeping modified sports while cutting educational programs isn’t appropriate, he said.

Residents in New York state will vote on their respective school district 2010-11 budgets and in the school board election on May 18.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.

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