The Forest Lake school district will cut most junior-high level sports in 2016-17, a decision that has rankled some parents and students who believe school athletics fill a vital role and didn’t feel included in the district’s decision-making process.
“Basically, there was no announcement, there was no parent discussion, it was just all the sudden everything was cut,” said Liz Tarlizzo, whose seventh-grade triplets play several sports at Century Junior High. “There was no plan in place, which is … what I think everybody is most disappointed about.”
District officials said the school board had to approve dramatic cuts at the April 7 school board meeting to eliminate $1 million from next year’s budget. Cutting sports will save $80,000, plus $56,000 on evening activity buses and $25,000 for a part-time junior high athletic director, said Aaron Forsythe, activities director.
Seventh- and eighth-graders will still be able to play competitive athletics, Forsythe said, but the sports will be run through community education or the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association (FLAAA), which offers mostly traveling sports.
Logistics and costs, as well as which group will offer each sport, haven’t been worked out yet, said Julie Ohman, Forest Lake’s community education director.
So far, FLAAA has committed to coordinating football next fall, said Al Hauge, FLAAA president.
Forsythe acknowledged that people were unhappy with how the district made the cuts and informed people about them, though he said the school board had been discussing possible reductions since January.
The district’s decision to cut sports wasn’t just financial but related to challenges in finding teams to play against, Forsythe said. Since several nearby districts shifted to a new conference, Forest Lake teams were traveling farther for games. And the number of participants in some sports was waning.
And many districts now successfully offer middle-level sports through community ed, he said, citing Anoka-Hennepin, Mahtomedi and St. Francis, among others.
“The trend is, it was inevitable at some point,” Forsythe said.
But Tarlizzo said school-sponsored sports fill a niche that community ed, FLAAA or club sports don’t. Community ed sports, which Forest Lake previously offered only through sixth grade, tend to be for kids who have never played, while traveling sports are competitive, time-consuming and expensive, she said.
The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district is slowly reinstating junior high school sports after cutting them completely in 2011-12. That year, kids began hanging around after school with nothing to do, said Jeff Marshall, athletics and activities director.
“I think then we realized what kind of a void this left,” he said.
The district now offers one or two sports for both boys and girls each season, Marshall said, and he hopes to add more. “I think sometimes the cost of community sports can be cost-prohibitive,” he said.
Hauge said FLAAA sports vary in cost from $80 for modified softball to $1,200 for hockey. School sports typically cost between $120 and $150, Tarlizzo said.
Seventh-grader Quinlan Bonnett said the cuts won’t affect him much because he does track, cross-country running and Nordic skiing. The latter two are grade 7 through 12 sports so he can still participate at the high school. But he worries kids who aren’t skilled enough to make traveling teams or can’t afford them won’t have a place to play, he said.
“It would be a much better idea to just keep school sports,” Bonnett said.