Columbia County is mulling over the idea of eliminating the county's middle school sports programs.
I do not want that to happen. I think team sports can be extremely beneficial for young people. It teaches them time management, teamwork and how hard work can pay off. It also helps keep them out of trouble and forces them to maintain their grades.
In my case, middle school sports helped shape who I am today. I was incredibly shy throughout my youth, but that shyness started to go away as I became involved with sports at Columbia Middle School.
In a perfect world, we would keep all the sports programs in the county.
But Columbia County's Board of Education, like other groups, has been forced to make severe cutbacks during the past couple of years. Basically, there is no more fat to be trimmed.
So administrators are being forced to look at every possible option that may save the system money.
This is no fun. No one likes to hear about teacher furloughs, physical education or music programs being shut down, or the possibility of losing our middle school sports programs. Trust me: Superintendent Charles Nagle does not want to see people lose their jobs, or see valuable programs go away.
That being said, I feel like Columbia County has the right man in charge as this tough issue comes up for debate. Nagle has been a champion for our sports programs and the coaches in Columbia County. He has done more, in terms of helping our coaches, than his predecessors, and he will continue to do so, said Greenbrier High School athletic director Garrett Black.
In the case of eliminating middle school sports, keep in mind that no decision has been made. In addition, this is not an all-or-none issue. There are several modified options being considered. One option is to eliminate some, but not all, sports programs. The major sports like football, basketball and baseball would be safe, while some of the other programs would be eliminated.
A system like this is being used currently in Gwinnett County, Black said. That county beefed up its recreation program to handle all sports with the exception of basketball, which is still played at the middle school.
A final decision will depend heavily on what the State Legislature does in terms of cutbacks. I hope that all the programs will be safe, but if more cutbacks are necessary I hear there are more than a half-dozen options being considered, which is evidence that Nagle and his staff are not taking this topic lightly.
Nagle is a former coach himself, and his passion to see sports thrive in Columbia County is evident. However, he is also left with the task of getting the best bang for taxpayers' buck. Are we currently getting that at the middle school level?
Nagle recently had an extra $125,000 at his disposal to use in lieu of instructional cutbacks. Where did that money come from? It was money set aside for hiring new middle school coaches. However, qualified coaches were either not available or simply not hired.
That meant there was extra money available in the budget, but it also meant a current staff member at the schools where this occurred would be coaching a sport where they likely were not qualified.
Nagle said he plans to convene the high school athletic directors, members of the county commission, several area leaders and the Columbia County Recreation Department to assess the situation and see if there are better options. No decisions will be made without lots of dialogue between all parties.
"I just want to make sure we are getting the best player development we can, for the resources we are spending," Nagle said. "We have some great middle school coaches, some of which would be great additions to our high schools."
If middle school sports do become a thing of the past, certain schools could take the hit harder than others.
Schools in more-affluent areas, like Lakeside and Greenbrier, likely will adjust more easily than Grovetown and Harlem.
Will a lack of middle school sports set high school programs back? Could it also mean kids would be more likely to get into trouble away from school?
These are collateral issues that certainly should be considered before a final decision is made.
While some parents and coaches are justifiably concerned, I trust Nagle to do everything he can to make a decision that is best for the kids and families of Columbia County.
He has given me no reason to believe otherwise.
So when you hear this topic being debated, you can count on one thing: Our superintendent is not some bureaucrat aimlessly making hasty decisions. Nagle, in my opinion, will give everything he has to ensure that our young people get a quality education while being offered the extracurricular activities that can be just as valuable to their development.
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