By JEN CARDINES
Cheers, tears, and middle school peers encompassed the Board of Education last Thursday, Aug. 10. In a series of motions, the board unanimously approved a partnership with the Southington Middle School Athletics Association (SMSAA) which will function as a booster club to support athletics at Kennedy and DePaolo middle schools.
After budget cuts forced the board to cut middle school sports funding for the upcoming school year, students and parents, along with BOE members and faculty, joined forces to “save middle school sports.”
Last week, they accomplished their goal to keep the middle school sports program uninterrupted despite the budgetary constraints.
As co-chairs of the middle school activities committee—which met weekly throughout the summer to strategize—board members Patricia Queen and Zaya Oshana led the discussion.
“Southington Public Schools will run the programs, which include the hiring and evaluation of coaches, scheduling and transportation, and the establishment of payment for the events,” Oshana said. “The funding for the coaches’ stipend is going to be collected and submitted before the start of each season to ensure that there is funding to pay for the coaches.”
A $100 dollar activity fee will be charged to each student for each sport they participate in. An online paying system for parents to pay the fee will be available, much like the lunch program where parents pre-pay for their child’s breakfast and lunches.
“One of the main reasons money will be collected in that way is to protect the confidentiality of students and families that could not afford this fee,” said Queen.
If a student is unable to afford the cost, they will not be excluded from the program. SMSAA is raising money to help offset those costs.
“Surrounding communities have comparable and in some cases a more expensive fee,” said Mike Taylor, a local parent who spoke against cutting sports at previous BOE meetings and helped create SMSAA. He represents DePaolo on the executive board.
Taylor delivered an in-depth presentation during the Aug 10 meeting, seeking approval of the association’s three-year plan to sustain after-school sports teams. The model anticipates restoring as many middle school sports programs in the first year as funding allows.
Next year, SMSAA hopes to restore schedules that were unable to be fully funded in the first year and look for opportunities to expand activities.
“There’s all sorts of opportunities and ideas out there, but is there an opportunity to not only replace what was lost, but in fact get something else on the calendar,” Taylor said.
By year three, the booster club wants to establish intramural programs that would be open to all students at both schools.
The booster club plans to hold fundraising events throughout the year while also seeking scholarships from local organizations such as the Joe & Kay Calvanese Foundation and Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” program.
Before the BOE members voted to approve the initiative, many commented on the determination of students and parents to make it all possible. When cutting middle school sports was even rumored on the agenda, scores of Southington residents poured into meetings to speak against it.
“You didn’t think we were listening, but we were listening to all these comments,” BOE member Terry Lombardi said. “It was the strength of that voice that really impacted us.”
While the public school budget for 2017-18 could not support sports programs, SMSAA came together for any effort that could help.
“You just saved our middle school sports,” Oshana said before the room began clapping.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.