There was a bit of a mourning period for the entire Newfane Central School District in 2010.
A $1.9 million drop in state aid for the 2010-11 school year forced the district to revise its proposed budget. As a result, there were almost $1 million worth of staff and extracurricular activities cut in order to try to avoid borrowing so much.
Among the casualties made at the middle school were modified-level sports.
The annual cost of operating modified sports is a small percentage of the $1 million, but the impact went far beyond the savings.
“It was a big loss,” said Tom Adams, principal of the middle school. “We certainly recognized it at the time.”
This year, thanks to the School Board and the voters of Newfane, the school was able to reintroduce all the modified sports that it had previously: boys and girls cross country, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls swimming, boys wrestling, and boys and girls track.
“Most times when things are cut in a school, they never come back,” said Adams, who is in his 21st year at the school and 10th as principal. “The fact that they did here is a testament to them.”
Adams couldn’t pinpoint a specific time when the idea of bringing back modified athletics became a realistic possibility, but he noted that there was a consistent dialogue in the last few years.
For Doug Ames, now in his 31st year at Newfane and 11th as director of athletics, talks picked up when new Superintendent Mike Bauman came on in November 2015. He was a big-time advocate coming from Sweet Home, which offers modified sports for the majority of its programs.
“When the new superintendent came in,” Ames said, “it was up to talking to him and then him taking it to the board.”
“The time was right,” Adams said. “It’s the reverse of a perfect storm. It wasn’t a series of bad things, it was a series of good things. Finances were available, and the commitment of the board and superintendent were fantastic.”
Now that modified sports are officially back, Adams has noticed a few differences at the school.
“Less kids were thinking I want to compete, that JV and varsity sports are a real thing for me,” Adams said. “We have the occasional seventh and eighth grader competing in varsity, but there were less kids connected with the athletics department.
“Now that there’s more buzz about competing in modified, we feel kids are more connected with athletics. They’re thinking of the future, setting goals.”
While modified programs are seen as a feeder system of sorts to junior varsity and varsity teams, interscholastic athletics are also about the experiences. They don’t just teach students how to play a sport; they can be an extension of the classroom. Aside from wins and losses, they can teach life lessons about such qualities as teamwork, discipline and leadership.
That’s one of the reasons why the number of participating students has been encouraging to Adams. It’s drawing together seventh- and eighth-graders from all manners of backgrounds, experience and skill level.
“Now, kids from different backgrounds are working together and interacting that might not have done so in a different situation,” Adams said. “It begins to break down barriers between kids who weren’t hanging out with each other before. Certain sports promote that more, but we see all sorts of different kids spending quality after-school time together.
“We want to put as many of those good habits and mindsets to use. We want them being a part of something.”
When it comes to the more popular sports such as basketball and volleyball, there hasn’t been any problem in gaining interest. But hurdles still remain for getting the middle school students back into other sports.
“The biggest drawback was getting interest to the kids, getting them to sign up,” Ames said. “Tom and I met with sixth- and seventh-graders last year, and we’re going to have to do it again. It was a good turnout, but it could have been better.”
In a perfect world, there would be modified opportunities for all sports, such as football, soccer and field hockey, to name a few.
Adams said that there may be possibilities to add more in the future, but “not that I’m privy to right now. If the day comes where we can add, we’ll definitely consider it.”
For the time being, there are no plans to eliminate any of the reintroduced sports.
“It’s there in the budget for next year,” Adams said. “As long as we have community support, it’s going to be a priority to keep for the kids.”
Luckily for Adams and the entire school district, there has been nothing short of overwhelming support.
“There are plenty of folks in other schools who wish there was more support,” Adams said, “but there’s been nothing but positive feedback about having these programs back. And there’s a desire for it to continue.”
Adams has observed a new sense of pride and school spirit this year. He thinks that it should have a positive trickle-down effect to the next generation of Panthers.
“The amount of kids that are participating, the idea of after-school events, seeing the kids wearing jerseys have added a great feel,” Adams said.
“I think that’s going to make an impact with the fifth- and sixth-graders. The student interest is there, and it’s growing. It’s a great thing to see.”