Saving high school sports

Cooperation, compromise forestall drastic cuts in programs

As athletic director at Pleasant Valley and mother of a softball player, Dominique, Pam Jackson knows well the difficulties facing sports.

As athletic director at Pleasant Valley and mother of a softball player, Dominique, Pam Jackson knows well the difficulties facing sports.

Photo By Kyle Delmar

Pam Jackson wears a variety of sports hats at Pleasant Valley High School. She’s the mother of a freshman daughter who plays softball and basketball. She’s the wife of the varsity football coach. She’s coach of the junior-varsity girls’ track team. Oh, and she’s also athletic director.

In the spring, she found several of her roles in direct competition. The Chico Unified School District faced such a hefty budget shortfall for the 2011-12 academic year that interscholastic athletics at Pleasant Valley and Chico High faced significant cuts. Varsity football was safe because of the revenue it generates, but other sports were on the chopping block.

Thanks to a plan championed by school board Trustee Andrea Lerner Thompson, CUSD preserved its high-school teams. The district made a commitment to fully fund coaches’ salaries, while booster clubs agreed to cover some additional expenses. The two athletic directors—Jackson and Chico High counterpart Danny Reed—absorbed slight pay cuts.

“I have three children in sports,” said Jackson, who in addition to daughter Dominique has sons in elementary and middle school. “It was a compromise I was willing to make so my kids and kids in their grades had sports.

“Prior to that plan, I thought we were in trouble. The conversations that were taking place seemed to point in the direction that multiple sports were going to be cut. Now everything is in really good standing. Our sports boosters are working really hard.”

The proposal adopted by the school board, titled the Athletic Accountability Plan, puts significant responsibilities on coaches, athletic directors and booster clubs.

The district no longer funds transportation for away games in the area; instead, either athletes’ parents or boosters will need to arrange rides. (Booster clubs are raising money to maintain the tradition of teammates traveling together.)

The district also will not subsidize nonconference competition. Chico and PV can use money from tickets and concessions to defray expenses of league games and the playoffs, but early-season games against teams outside the Eastern Athletic League must be covered by team fundraising.

Perhaps most conspicuous, apart from the Almond Bowl, Chico High football games no longer will take place at Chico State. Instead, the Panthers will play at Asgard Yard—home of cross-town rivals the Pleasant Valley Vikings. The move will save CUSD more than $16,000 a year.

That may seem like a tough pill to swallow. Not only will Chico High players call their rivals’ field home, but they also had three games this fall pushed from Friday night to Saturday because of scheduling conflicts.

The addition of Chico High to a facility that already accommodates Pleasant Valley and youth teams means more wear and tear on the playing surface. The district is allocating an additional $5,000 for grounds-keeping, and school administrators are working out the logistics of field maintenance. (They also are preparing for the worst-case scenario of vandalism.)

Still, considering the alternative, sports supporters accept the trade-off. Superintendent Kelly Staley says the Athletic Accountability Plan saved CUSD sports—“that is a reality”—and both schools have been moving forward in unison.

“The last few years, there has been a wonderful relationship between the principals at Pleasant Valley and Chico High, working well together,” Staley said. “This certainly will present some new challenges, but I am so impressed with them. I really have seen the two schools pull together.

“It’s not being viewed as ‘us versus them’; it’s doing what’s best for the kids. It’s about the kids, not the adults.”

The cooperative spirit has been a bonus. “If this is what it took to get us here,” Staley said, “then amen!”

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Michael Smith is a graduate of Chico High. He participated in Panthers athletics from 1966 to ’68 and continued playing sports at Butte College. He’s president of the Sons of Italy philanthropic group in Chico, which for the past three years has donated money to the sports boosters of his high-school alma mater.

This year, the focus has changed. “Obviously,” he said, “if one school goes down, so does the other.” So the Sons of Italy will donate equally to both booster clubs. The major fundraiser will be a golf tournament Oct. 3 at Butte Creek Country Club.

“People are donating money, saying, ‘If it helps the kids, here you go,’ ” Smith relayed.

That’s the response boosters are getting, too.

Bill Troudy, president of Pleasant Valley’s sports booster club, says the number of board members has tripled this year, up to 18 from around a half-dozen. “We have a lot of new parents who have been involved in other schools’ activities,” he said. “People are beginning to realize they need to step up and help out.”

The effort is significant—“parents have full-time jobs, and fundraising can be a full-time job,” Troudy said. Yet, without sports, many students would lose significant mentoring and motivation.

Lori Twisselman, president of the Chico High sports booster club, says she’s “optimistic” about the new arrangement.

“There’s going to be a lot of hard work from both sides to coordinate at one site,” Twisselman said. “There are going to be glitches, but that’s what you’d expect the first time you do something. It’s going to work.”

“Sports kept me off the streets!” Smith said. “Cutting high school sports would be disastrous to our community, not to mention to the students. Look what happened to [Super Bowl MVP] Aaron Rodgers, and all the others that made it to the Olympics. This would not have happened if we’d cut sports. We need to make sure as a community that we do whatever it takes to keep sports alive and give the young adults a chance to succeed.”