By Ry Rivard
link Daily Mail staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State Board of Education members lambasted a proposal by a school principals group that would trim the seasons of nearly every high school and middle school sports team.

The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission's Board of Control, which is made up of principals, voted 71-45 last month to reduce by 10 percent the number of athletic contests held for all sports except football and boys and girls basketball starting in the 2009-10 season.

If the state Board of Education approves the proposal, and that appeared doubtful at a Wednesday meeting, the high school baseball season would be reduced from 32 to 28 games, the cross country season would go from 16 to 14 meets, and there would be two fewer tennis tournaments during the regular season.

Activities Commission Executive Director Gary Ray said the plan would save money and reduce the class time that students miss to participate in athletics.

He said other states were making more drastic cuts to their athletic programs to deal with falling revenues.

However, state board members and state schools Superintendent Steve Paine questioned the plan, its rationale and its effect on kids.

"I don't like this proposal," said Paine, who said he also was speaking as a father.

"I would challenge you to ask some student athletes what they think about that proposal," Paine told Ray. "There are ways to raise funds to cover these trips."

Board member Barbara Fish, an advocate of healthy lifestyles in schools, said the 71 principals who voted for the policy at an April SSAC board meeting were sending the wrong message.

She said reducing student participation in athletics would negate the state's push to encourage exercise.

"This is the worst proposal the principals have ever come up with," Fish said.

She also said principals were "way out of line" in favoring some sports over others.

Ray said gate receipts from basketball and football, the two sports exempt from the 10- percent reduction proposal, help schools fund other sports, like tennis and track and field.

Some coaches have questioned this, saying baseball also generates revenue.

Keeping football and basketball seasons intact also could undercut the argument by the measure's supporters that the policy is intended to reduce the amount of class time students miss to travel from their schools to distant away games.

Football often is the sport with the most participants, and football and basketball are the only sports that routinely pull band and cheerleaders out of school as well.

Paine also questioned the economic rationale of the proposal.

"When you're cutting two games out of a schedule, you know what you're cutting?" he said. "One road trip."

Paine also said schools have not had budget cuts to date.

"No revenue has been reduced to schools at this point," he said.

Paine said studies show students who are more involved in school and extracurricular activities perform better.

Board member Lowell Johnson said the proposal was largely unnecessary because individual schools already have the authority to shorten schedules. He suggested principals were just looking for some political cover if they decided to trim schedules or cut costs.

"They are, in my opinion, just trying to make a rule so they don't have to make a decision," Johnson said.

The board will vote whether or not to put the proposal out for public comment at today's meeting. Members of the board appeared divided on whether it should even make it that far.

Board member Priscilla Haden said the public should at least be able to comment on the proposal.

Fish and Board President Delores Cook disagreed.

"My feeling is I don't want this board to look ridiculous," Fish said. "And I think this is a ridiculous proposal."

Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.rivard@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.


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