Middle school sports survive budget cuts

By BRIAN JENNINGS

STAFF WRITER

Southington has had a rich tradition of being a sports town and has built a reputation of strong programs in sports like softball, baseball, and football at the high school level, and some residents believe that it starts at the youth level. When school officials threatened to cut middle school sports, they rallied.

With recent budget cuts in the state of Connecticut, all Southington middle school sports were eliminated completely from Kennedy and DePaolo this past spring, with the exception of cross country. Through a community effort of volunteers and middle school parents, a booster club was formed in partnership with the Southington Public Schools to try and maintain those programs, called the Southington Middle School Athletic Association (SMSAA).

In order to accomplish this task, SMSAA has to raise about $40,000-$60,000 annually to continue fall, winter, and spring middle school sports. In addition, players will have to pay a $100 activity fee per roster spot. SMSAA had to raise about $22,000 to continue fall middle school sports three days a week.

“We are reaching out to the community, businesses, the chamber of commerce, and parents to let them know what’s going on,” said SMSAA president Mike DeFeo. “We’re trying to do anything we can to raise funds to keep middle school sports alive.”

The SMSAA met with the Southington Board of Education last month to present their new plan to accept funds they’ve collected, as well as implement a new method of paying for middle school sports. The board approved their plan.

“It was outstanding,” said DeFeo. “They had three votes, and the votes in motion were generally 24-0 in favor of moving forward.”

The SMSAA has already worked about a number of different fundraisers to keep a full schedule of six middle school sports, starting for the fall season, which includes two boys soccer teams, two girls soccer teams, and two girls volleyball teams. After their first test of trial and error, the SMSAA didn’t raise the $22,000 they needed for fall sports. They raised $25,000.

“We are very ecstatic and appreciative of our community for steeping up, especially my committee,” said DeFeo. “We have a bunch of fundraisers coming up at the end of this month, in October, and in November, and we feel pretty confident that we can get there.”

The Southington YMCA has been working with some of the members from the SMSAA on a fundraiser to support their cause. The YMCA created a category for the Apple Harvest Festival Road Races called, “TEAM SMSAA.”

Those that sign up for TEAM SMSAA to run either the 5K or 5-mile races will pay $30, with $20 going to the road race and $10 going towards TEAM SMSAA. The normal entry fee for either race is $25.

“I think this is a win-win situation,” said Southington YMCA executive director John Myers. “We’re helping out a very dedicated group and creating a new opportunity to attract new participants to the Apple Harvest Festival Road Races.”

Going forward, the SMSAA plans to follow a three-phase approach. Keeping the project up and running to restore as many middle school sports programs that funding will allow is the goal for the initial year. If the funds max out, they’re looking at a three to four-day schedule.

Phase two includes more of a full-day schedule. Phase three is adding incremental activities, like intramurals, in order to get more students involved.

“If we can’t fulfill the first year, we’ll restore as many as we can the second year,” said DeFeo. “We’ll get it all up and running in the third year, establishing an intramural program that would be open to the entire student population of both schools. It becomes a true partnership between the town’s people and department of education.”

According to their YouCaring page, “SMSAA’s goal is to work in cooperation with the various Town of Southington departments to improve, maintain, and support the town’s after-school athletic program for middle school students. We believe that strong middle school athletic programs are vital to the active, healthy culture and shared values of our community. This association will provide a channel through which residents and other interested parties can unify and partner with each other for the advancement of these programs in our town.”

Other officers of the SMSAA include Alisa DelMonte, Kim Carr, Casie Messina, Chris Shanley-Buck, and Mike Taylor. According to their website, the SMSAA has an EIN number and has filed for 501c3 status as a charitable foundation with the IRS. Currently, the SMSAA has raised a total of $3,240 towards the winter season.

For more information on the SMSAA, you can visit their Facebook page or donate to their cause at www.youcaring.com/southingtonmiddleschoolstudents-906501.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@southingtonobserver.com.

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