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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2003

Cutting athletic budgets ill-advised

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

You don't have to be a fan of high school sports to be concerned about the possible cuts that are being talked about in public school athletics.

You don't even have to know who won the last state football or basketball championship to understand that taking a budget knife to athletics has the potential to be felt well beyond the fields and gyms where the titles are contested.

To be sure these are tough economic times, and austerity is the order of the day on too many fronts. But cutting athletics, while at first glance an easy move, is one that demands a thorough examination of the possible alternatives and repercussions.

Extracurricular events, such as sports, enhance the educational experience and keep in school students who, in too many cases, might otherwise have little interest in staying. They provide opportunities and outlets in numbers too big to ignore. For a lot of kids they offer much-needed structure and supervision. Maybe the only such discipline some will get in formative years.

They also provide, in the form of the regular contact with coaches, up close and personal role models. Indeed, some coaches might themselves have walked a different path if not for the alternative that sports offered in their day.

At a time when crime statistics tell us that more diversions are needed to keep kids from falling through the cracks, athletics can actually be a reasonable way to go about providing them. For what the state spends on fielding a 60-member football team, it is hard to conceive of many other programs that could do the job as well or as reasonably for that number. In that, the already underpaid coaches practically qualify as miracle workers.

Of course, more could be saved by axing, say, junior varsity football, girls wrestling or any number of other activities. But you wonder how penny-wise and dollar-foolish that might be in the long run. Where would you rather allocate money: on sustaining athletics now or on adding to the corrections budget later?

Of course, it behooves athletics to make the most of, and expand upon, the dwindling resources it does have. That's where events such as the just-approved Hawai'i High School Athletic Association state football championship, which is undertaking a Division II bracket, can help. If run properly, and embraced by the schools and community, it has the potential to put money into the pot.

Already the Division I championship has returned to football-playing schools an average of more than $3,000 each year in its four-season run. That's money that also goes into underwriting other, less lucrative, sports as well.

So, before cutting sports, let's make sure to take a good look at both how much it will really help and how much it can hurt.