WORCESTER – The discussion about middle school sports has been picking up steam in recent weeks with the item showing up on the agendas of both the Worcester City Council and the Worcester School Committee. Although both bodies agree that there is a need, the question is how to pay for it.
The rising costs of sports in general has had a huge impact on middle school aged youth in Worcester. The participation rates in leagues throughout the city has decreased and the primary reason is cost.
Although some progress is being made in Worcester for offering some middle school sports, all offerings have been implemented in the same school. This may lead some to believe that the offerings are strategically placed in the more affluent and voter active side of the city. Which is why the School Committee is pushing for more offerings across the city.
“All kids should have access to middle school sports,” School Committee member Dante Comparetto, who filed the order, said at last week’s School Committee meeting. “It’s about bringing the community together to make this happen.”
In the past year, Forest Grove Middle School has fundraised to create a Field Hockey and Softball team. The “City Hoops” program, spearheaded by local businessman John Moynihan, is open to all Worcester Public School Students and is also housed at Forest Grove.
“No matter what your zip code is, no matter what your social economic status is, all of our children should have access to these programs,” City Councilor-at-Large Khrystian E. King said.
King, who has been an advocate of a city-wide middle school sports, is proud of the effort done thus far, but realizes there is still much work to be done.
In recent weeks, the junior varsity baseball programs at both North High School and Burncoat High School had to cancel the remainder of their seasons due to the lack of participation. The Burncoat varsity baseball team had to forfeit a game because it did not have enough players to finish the game after an injury.
Both King and Moynihan feel the participation numbers are down due to he lack of a feeder system in the middle schools.
Although cost has always been a prohibitive factor in making middle school sports part of the Worcester Public Schools annual budget, the call has been for a public and private funding source, much like the Sports Alive program that helped fund Elementary and Middle Schools sports in the 1990’s.
School Committee member Dianna Biancheria calls the middle school age “The lost years” because of the lack of opportunities in general available to these students. Most importantly she wants to see buy-in from not just parents, but teachers and administrators as well.
King argues that in the long run Worcester would benefit by implementing middle school sports because middle school students are less apt to get into trouble or “popping wheelies”. For female students they are less likely to get pregnant and more likely to graduate and go on to college.
According to school committee member Molly McCullough, there are many reasons why providing students with the opportunity to play middle school sports is beneficial.
McCullough lists additional adult role models, opportunities to make friends with students you may not typically interact with, increased confidence, improved attendance, development of troubleshooting/problem solving skills, providing opportunities to create feeder systems for local high schools and reducing disparity in terms of opportunities, not only with other districts, but within the WPS district.
“I look forward to working together with my school committee colleagues, Superintendent [Maureen] Binienda, [WPS athletic director] Dave Shea and other administrators/staff members, the City Council and community members in order to develop a plan to bring back more middle school sport opportunities for our students,” McCullough said.
A study conducted by Up2Us Center for Sports Based Youth Development stated that low-income families are continuing to bear the brunt of athletic cuts because they reside in school districts that simply do not have the money to maintain their athletic programs.
Teenage sports offering are becoming less and less available not just in the schools, but in the community as well. Local leagues have been forced to merge or even close down each year because of the rising costs and the low participation. Parents who can afford to pay for the activities have been opting for travel or “AAU” and sending their children to private schools to further their athletic careers. This leaves low-income students shut out of sports completely.
With the budget for fiscal year 2019 soon to be deliberated on by the school committee there has been a call for this issue to be addressed incrementally.
“Now is the time for action,” Biancheria said. “We don’t accept pockets of what students have available to them.”