P.J. Smith and Kristi Sachs were jolted by a proposal to trim 18 Brainerd High School varsity athletic programs and eliminate all middle school athletics in time for the 2008-09 school year.
Smith has four daughters and Sachs three sons in high school and middle school athletics and activities. Following the failed Nov. 6 referendum, both wondered what they could do to save all programs, for next year and beyond.
The result of their efforts, and others, is the establishment of Warrior Way Inc., a nonprofit corporation that proposes to shift the majority of athletic funding from taxpayers to families.
Sophomore defenseman Tate Rusk (right) and other members of the Brainerd boys' hockey team were greeted by youngsters Friday before the Warriors' game against Cloquet at the Brainerd Area Civic Center. The Warriors won, 7-2. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Currently, about $1.1 million is publicly funded at Brainerd High School for 29 Minnesota State High School League varsity sports. The district administration proposes to trim $860,000 from that figure, leaving about $300,000 to fund 11 varsity athletics that would remain.
WWI, the nonprofit corporation, is proposing to substantially decrease public funding, increase event revenue, substantially increase activity fees and make additional reductions. The group believes its proposal would enable all current athletics and activities to remain.
Smith's belief is that athletics play an important role in the development of students.
Warrior Way Inc.
Objective: To maintain all current middle and high school athletics and activities in Brainerd.
E-mail address: warrior way@ brainerd.net
Contributions: May be mailed to Brainerd Community Action, 213 S. Fifth St., Brainerd, MN 56401. Checks should be made payable to Brainerd Community Action, with Warrior Way Inc. in memo line.
A MSHSL study of more than 300 schools backs that assumption. It showed an average student has a grade-point average of 2.68, student-athletes 2.84 and fine arts students 2.98.
The average student is absent 8.76 days, student-athletes 7.44 and fine arts students 6.94.
Smith also relayed a comment made by Warriors football coach Ron Stolski, whom he played for, about the value of athletics.
"Ron said that the single greatest predictor of a high school student's future success is whether or not they were involved in extracurricular activities," Smith said.
Sachs said Brainerd's many high school and middle school athletics and activities were among the reasons she, her husband and family decided to move from St. Louis Park to Brainerd.
"When we were looking around the state, many of the other midsize towns, which is where we desired to relocate, had issues with their school district's funding," she said. "That was one of the reasons we chose Brainerd, because we were impressed with the academic and other opportunities our kids would have here.
"We want those opportunities to continue for everyone."
WWI plans to present its proposal to the Brainerd School Board Jan. 14. It hopes the board endorses its proposal so it can proceed with fundraising.
Smith said WWI anticipates the board will act on the group's proposal, with conditions, and set a deadline for raising funds.
Currently, the fee to participate in a Warrior varsity sport is $80 per participant. The current fee for athletes in grades 6-8 is $50 per participant. The district has a current cap of $400 per family for athletes in grades 6-12.
WWI is proposing to substantially raise participation fees. The group projects participation rates would be about 90 percent next year of what they are this school year.
Smith anticipates a few problems in shifting from public to activity-based funding.
"The most important thing is that kids who can't afford the activity fee can not be excluded," he said, "so our proposal is to form (WWI), raise money initially and come up with long-term fundraising mechanisms as well, to be able to offer grants to kids who can't afford the fees.
"The second part is what will it do to participation? ... As we build a funding model we're trying to build in some best guesses, regarding reductions in overall participation."
Smith said the idea of setting family caps has been discussed along with setting different fees for different sports but the group has concluded something uniform must be proposed, particularly for the first year.
"Our best guess right now is that about 30 percent of kids in the district qualify for free and reduced lunches," he said. "That's been our benchmark number. That number should hold over into athletics so about 30 percent of kids probably will qualify for a partial or full grant."
Smith's group also believes a thriving extracurricular program is vital to a community, thus making the entire program worthy of it being saved in its current state.
"A community without a good extracurricular program is not going to attract young medical professionals, young financial professionals, young entrepreneurs," he said. "Those people want their kids to have these opportunities."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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