What is the future of Northeast Hamilton athletics?
Concerned Northeast Hamilton parents, patrons and athletic boosters gathered to discuss that topic at the school last Thursday night.
With declining enrollment, student participation in school activities and athletes is also declining, reported Supt. Patrick Hocking.
Approximately 50 adults, including several school board members, were on hand to hear participation figures and share ideas.
"This is an open discussion and it is not financially driven," said Supt. Hocking. "This is purely about participation numbers".
Hocking reported NEH enrollment in 2005 was 320-330 students. Last fall, enrollment had fallen to 213.
"That puts us at a deficit," said Hocking. "I would be lying if I said every single student isn't important to us".
Of the current 64 NEH high school students, most sports draw 50 percent student participation or less.
Supt. Hocking estimated that while student participation runs about 50 to 60 percent, the school's teams are thin which makes them vulnerable to injury, illness and academic ineligibility. Due to that lack of bench depth, some games were postponed or cancelled this year, he said.
"That is the last thing any Varsity team wants to do is cancel a season mid-season due to injuries, grades or illness," he said.
Several parents spoke to the need to develop elementary school programs for students that will translate into guaranteed participation in high school.
Other parents spoke of the concern that some younger, less experienced NEH athletes have been competing against bigger and more mature students this year.
Several parents cited studies which credit participation in extra curricular activities as being academically beneficial to students. That was motivation alone to keep athletics viable, said several parents.
The discussion turned to recruiting additional parents to support and encourage student participation.
"This is not unique to NEH," said Hocking of the lack of parental support. "This happens everywhere".
School Board member Mike Rapp noted that the future for NEH may mean having lower expectations.
"We have to decide if we are going to be participators, that maybe we are not winners," he said.
"As we go forward, that is something we have to accept," said Hocking.
"The worst thing is if you have five or six kids and have injuries or ineligibility and you have to cancel the season," said School Board member Roxanne Anderson.
Several patrons asked what would happen if the school no longer offered sports.
NEH elementary teacher Tammy Massman reported that while the parents feared the partial day sharing with Webster City, the students have adjusted well and are thriving.
"They are going to be okay," she said. "It will just be different".
While Supt. Hocking predicted that the district may be forced to make a decision within the next year, he also said that the district would be able to decide on a year-to-year basis on the athletic programs.
"Webster City has been a good neighbor and will work with us with whatever we want," he said.
"Do we do away with sports all at once or gradually like with soccer, wrestling and cross country?" questioned Board member Rapp.
Currently, NEH students participate as members of the Webster City Lynx teams in those sports.
Parents questioned how NEH would retain its school spirit if sports were no longer offered at the school.
"That spirit is something that the kids talked about wanting to keep (when they started partial day sharing)," said one parent.
When asked if building the new elementary school put the district in this situation, Hocking noted that the district boasts a $190 million valuation.
"Ours is a property rich district," said Hocking, emphasizing that the declining enrollment is the only reason for the current situation.
"I assure you, financially, we could build buildings, but you can't buy students or parents to step up and help out," he said.
While several parents discussed recruiting other adults to help coach teams and encourage students to participate, one mother voiced her opinion.
"I didn't have a plan when my child started Kindergarten where he was going to play ball," she said. "As long as he is getting a good education, the school will stay open".