Editorial: The squeaky wheel

It’s almost like watching a classic movie when you already know the script by heart. Timothy Connellan ripped the page right out of the superintendent’s play book when he sent a letter to parents saying that middle school sports might be cut due to budget constraints. The cry comes every few years, and the script never wavers. The curtain opens on public comment, and a crowd of parents swarm the stage.

It’s funny. When programs for gifted students were on the chopping block a few years ago, turnout didn’t come close to this number of middle school athletic supporters.

It’s become a regular political bluff used in Southington finances. Politicians look serious about cuts. Parents get up in arms that their children’s education is being ripped apart. The young athletes are pawns painted as helpless victims in this predictable tug of war.

Even the arguments are always cut from the same tired list:

“People will stop moving to Southington if we cut sports.” (We think education, property value, crime, and jobs should rank higher on people’s lists when choosing a home.)

“What are these kids going to do after school?” (Play in the yard? Homework? Go early to youth league practice?).

“They’ll end up on the streets.” (There has to be at least one step between a school letter and a rap sheet).

“If we cut sports, our kids will turn to drugs.” (Perhaps we can push these kids toward other programs—like STEPS, robotics, or band—because, in recent years, athletes have been the ones involved in a number of drinking and drugging scandals. Middle school sports can’t be the answer).

In fact, you can argue that Glastonbury is consistently one of the best high school sports programs in the state—winning titles over the last decade in almost every sport—and they only have intramural clubs at the middle school level. Nobody left town over it, property values are fine, and more kids get involved with less cost to the taxpayers.

Middle school sports is one of the last vestiges from the junior high school era when freshmen were separated from the high school, studying with seventh and eighth graders at Kennedy and DePaolo. At games, rosters were mostly filled with freshmen (except for the most talented up-and-comers). The most important part of the system was that, as freshmen teams, they were designed to make players ready for varsity competition as sophomores—like freshmen teams still do.

The football team played a simpler version of the high school’s wishbone offense. The basketball, baseball, and softball teams were using similar drills, plays, and concepts as the Blue Knights and Lady Knights. In other words, school sports were matriculated in much the same way as math, science, or history. We would still strongly support that system.

Maybe it is time to cut these teams—especially those that are already servicing the same kids (and more) in the town’s many youth leagues (soccer, basketball, softball, and baseball). Maybe the town should only keep those sports with no youth option (cross country and girls volleyball)… By the way, these are the only sports at our town’s middle schools.

The truth is that cutting middle school sports won’t balance the budget. Keeping them won’t affect our high school programs. Other than cross country and volleyball, every kid that makes a middle school team is probably already playing the same sport on another youth team in town.

The orchestrated show was fun but pointless. The council has already approved a $1.9 million increase, and they have very little to say about how it’s spent. The Board of Education has many more important issues than middle school sports. Of course, those issues draw smaller crowds.

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