Fewer sports, fewer options

Goalie Shannon Skowbo reels in a shot during practice Tuesday at Rancho San Justo.

With the cut of after-school athletics at the Hollister School
District, coaches and community members look at the short- and
long-term effects, as well as what can be done in the future
For the student-athletes of Rancho San Justo and other middle
and elementary schools in Hollister, last week’s news probably
hasn’t even started to sink in.
After all, school sports aren’t exactly a thing of the past just
yet. About 50 or so Rancho students held regular practices on
Tuesday
— the girls soccer team running shooting lines on the pitch, the
boys basketball team conducting jump-shot drills on the
blacktop.
With the cut of after-school athletics at the Hollister School District, coaches and community members look at the short- and long-term effects, as well as what can be done in the future

For the student-athletes of Rancho San Justo and other middle and elementary schools in Hollister, last week’s news probably hasn’t even started to sink in.

After all, school sports aren’t exactly a thing of the past just yet. About 50 or so Rancho students held regular practices on Tuesday — the girls soccer team running shooting lines on the pitch, the boys basketball team conducting jump-shot drills on the blacktop.

But the financial challenges within the Hollister School District will change all of that come January. In a letter sent out to parents last month, Superintendent Gary L. McIntire announced to suspend all after-school athletics until the current budget situation improves.

The move by the district, which must reduce next year’s budget by $2.5 million to $2.75 million, would save about $26,000 this year and another $56,000 annually after that, said Jack Bachofer, the district’s business director.

It was not an easy decision, and even blindsided some. The district had previously cut sixth-grade basketball, but a widespread cut of all sports was a move some weren’t expecting so soon, at least not in the middle of the year.

“For the kids, it hasn’t really hit them,” said Tom Schatz, the athletic director at Rancho. “It’s really not gonna be felt until after Christmas. It’s not a reality yet.”

The real reality, Schatz said, is when wrestling and track begin during the winter and spring seasons. Those two sports alone interest 160 students at Rancho, and another 160 at Maze.

“It’s a travesty,” said Schatz, who also coaches volleyball. “If they cut us, that’s less opportunity for kids.”

In the short term, the across-the-board cuts would likely put an added emphasis on club teams and local youth organizations in the area. But with San Benito High School going through a much larger budget cut of its own — the athletics program is in a $100,000 shortfall — and with it, the very real possibility of cutting all freshmen sports next season, there is the possibility some student-athletes in the area could go without after-school sports until they reach the junior varsity level at the high school.

“It gives the kids something to look forward to after school, and it gets them prepared to do it at the high school level,” said Josh Morales, a P.E. teacher at Rancho who coaches flag football, track and basketball at the middle school, and also cross country at the high school.

“They’ll be introduced to less sports. It will mean less kids out playing and more kids just hanging out after school. The only thing they could fall back on is club sports. But unless they have money, those are expensive.”

At Rancho, roughly 4 of the 16 players who competed in boys soccer last season continued the sport in the offseason with a club team. The numbers were different among the girls team, as all but five players competed in club soccer.

But it’s the lack of options the school would provide, and whether those student-athletes would give up on the development process as a result, that worries Paulette Cobb, who coaches both boys and girls soccer at Rancho, as well as track.

“Where are they going to find their own entertainment?” Cobb asked.

A language arts and history teacher at Rancho, Cobb, too, mentioned the importance of the track program, which doesn’t make any cuts and boasts the largest turnout numbers among any other sport.

“For some, this is the first organized sport they have until they get to high school,” Cobb said.

Most of the savings from cutting sports will come from coaches’ stipends, Bachofer said, stipends that totaled $38,353.24 for the 14 sports offered at both Rancho and Maze, according to a document submitted by Schatz.

Many involved in the youth sports scene remain optimistic of providing some sort of option for the athletes, though. Schatz even plans on proposing one idea that would involve a pay-to-play approach through the Hollister Volleyball Club, a non-profit that is presided by Schatz himself.

The charter is not specific to volleyball, though, and Schatz believes it could include each of the 14 sports currently offered at both Rancho and Maze. Prospective athletes would pay for stipends and mileage, among other things, and probably wouldn’t pay more than $110 per child.

“And that amount would totally depend on the amount of kids,” Schatz said. “I’m looking into talking with school officials to see if it can be done.”

Selling pizza cards and sweatshirts were some of the fundraising efforts in the past, but Alec Griffin feels more can be done.

Perhaps a walk-a-thon could be a sport-saver, he said, or maybe even hiring a district revenue manager that would not only help raise money for the sports programs, but also bring back additional funds to the district as well.

“I’m optimistic that the right people will get involved and make the sports programs work,” said Griffin, who is both a teacher and coach at Rancho, and who also sits on the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee.

Very little time remains for whatever can be done, though, at least by the next sports season in January. Meanwhile, dire financial situations in other areas, even at other schools, have left many organizations searching for the same dollar.

“But I think there’s hope,” Schatz said.

Outside organizations like the Hollister Youth Alliance have already reached out to the district. Executive Director Diane Ortiz said she was shocked and disappointed to hear of last week’s cuts, adding, “It’s one of those cuts that’s another hit to the kids.”

Although the HYA doesn’t necessarily offer the sports that were cut by the Hollister School District, Ortiz said its strategy is keeping kids safe.

“We’re ready and willing to work with all the folks out there and provide activities for kids,” said Ortiz, whose organization is currently brainstorming ideas as to what can be done.

Tina Garza, recreation supervisor for the City of Hollister, said the City of Salinas offers programs through its schools, with the city acting as administrator. It’s a similar plan to Schatz’s, where instead of a non-profit organization, the city would collect fees for each team, fees that would pay for officials and uniforms, among other things.

Garza plans on proposing the plan in the near future.

“We want to do it to keep the kids busy, keep them out of trouble,” Garza said.

“It’s a community effort.”

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