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updated: 2/14/2014 6:19 AM

District 200: Middle school B teams too costly for now

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The cost of bringing back so-called B sports teams next fall at Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's four middle schools is simply too high -- at least for now -- school board members say.

Officials say reinstating the teams would cost more than $160,000 a year to cover stipends for six coaches at each school, transportation to games, uniforms and other expenses. In addition, athletic participation fees for all athletes would have to be significantly increased.

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Superintendent Brian Harris said staff members recommended against reinstating the B teams, mostly because of concerns with a projected $1.3 million shortfall in the district's yet-to-be approved 2014-15 budget. He said staff is working to avoid the shortfall mostly through attrition.

He said reinstating B teams would mean "addition by subtraction," with the subtraction possibly being the loss of three more teachers.

The board, however, also agreed to take a comprehensive look at athletic programs in the future to see if there are ways they can be improved or expanded.

Middle school B teams provided students who didn't make the first cut in girls volleyball and boys and girls basketball to play on another team -- a concept similar to high school varsity and junior varsity squads. The B teams were eliminated from Edison, Franklin, Hubble and Monroe middle schools in 2010 as part of nearly $1.9 million in budget cuts at the middle school level.

Lisa Szudarski of Wheaton voiced support for B teams by telling the story of her son, who entered Edison Middle School with three major diagnosis, including pervasive developmental disorder, which falls on the autism spectrum.

She said he joined two no-cut sports, cross country and wrestling, and both have had a profound impact on his social and emotional development.

"His sense of self just continued to increase as he ran and wrestled for the next two and a half years," she said, adding that he no longer meets criteria for the disorder.

Warrenville resident Pam Nielsen also spoke in support of B teams, noting the benefits sports have on students in the short and long term. But at the conclusion of the meeting she addressed the board again to say she understood where it was coming from.

"We're all on the same page here. I know we are," she said, adding that she liked the board's idea to look at athletic programs as a whole to see where improvements can be made.

In November, a survey was sent to the families of roughly 3,300 middle school students, asking what they thought of re-establishing B teams. Of the 779 respondents, 91 percent said they support adding the teams; 79 percent said they would support higher athletic fees to bring the teams back; and 83 percent said they would support a new $10 intramural fee, too.

"This is probably one of the hardest decisions the board has faced since I've been on (it) with respect to the emotions this is generating," said board member Jim Vroman. He said he received more emails from parents about B teams than any other topic.

Like other board members, Vroman said he sympathized with families who want B teams back because his children also played sports and he knows how difficult it was if they didn't make a team.

"The bottom line for me is if we're going to reinstate B team sports, it's going to have to be with money outside of the budget: foundational support, fee raises, maybe some other programs ... but it can't take away from our existing commitments to curriculum and education to students," he said.

Board member Rosemary Swanson said she still believes the board needs to consider ways to get as many kids as possible involved in activities so students who want the experience of competition, coaching or skill development have a chance to do so.

"What we're hearing is that the middle school athletic program, as it currently sits, is not meeting the perceived needs of the community," she said.

School board member Brad Paulsen said while he would love to reinstate the B teams, every middle school student still has a chance to try out for basketball and volleyball if they choose -- it's just that the opportunity to be part of the team doesn't exist for everybody.

"There are lots of opportunities for kids at the middle school level to do stuff," he said. "There are other opportunities for those students to be active."

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