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It's ante up or not play at some schools

I have seen the future of high school sports, and it is filled with $1 candy bars, frozen French bread pizzas and magazine subscriptions.

Because one day soon, if little Ryan or Ashley wants to try out for the middle school soccer team, the cost is either going to come from you or from whatever your kids can sell door-to-door.

For some, that day has arrived.

The state's quickening slide into a fiscal abyss has already had an effect in the classroom, where hundreds of teachers in Western New York have lost their jobs in the name of trying to keep tax rates from increasing too much. It has led to the elimination of countless programs that had been taken for granted for years.

This year, the eyes of the budget-cutters turned to sports. In several districts, that meant eliminating modified teams, a step below junior varsity that generally means seventh- and eighth-graders.

But rather than accept that their children would have one less after-school activity, some parents and sports boosters have chosen to go out on their own to raise the necessary funds to save the sport. For example:

*The Akron School Board, which eliminated 10 modified sports teams for 2011-12, is examining whether any or all could be resurrected. The discussion was prompted by a parent who offered to fund the spring lacrosse season.

*Iroquois School Board members decided to fund a portion of the district's almost-eliminated sports program and agreed to allow booster clubs to try to fund the rest.

*Orchard Park parents managed to raise $12,000 in two weeks to bring back the freshman football program that had been cut.

This is not an entirely new phenomenon; in the last decade, when artificial turf fields started becoming the rage for high school teams, school boards loved the idea but not the cost. So parents and boosters went the donation route.

The same thing happened more recently when a push began to start girls high school hockey programs. In the face of teacher layoffs, it was tough to make a case for another sport, so some districts chose private fundraising over public funding.

Lee MacLeod, who along with Jim Crowley led the effort to preserve freshman football in Orchard Park, played high school football in his youth and hopes his son has the same sports opportunities he had. If that means a greater cost to him in time and money, he is willing to pay the price.

MacLeod believes in the school of thought that sports -- in addition to art, music and other extracurricular activities -- help make a well-rounded student.

"It's not about some kids going out and playing sports for the sake of playing sports," he said.

So for this year's football season in Orchard Park, it's parents and boosters to the rescue.

The natural question that follows is what's next? The budget picture isn't getting any rosier. If the cutting continues next year, it's reasonable to imagine some school boards deciding to cut entire sports, from modified all the way to varsity. Then what?

There was a time when school taxes paid for driver-education classes or band trips; that era has largely passed. A new era might be upon us where you pay or raise the money yourself for everything that happens outside the classroom.

So while your budding star athletes are working on their post patterns, scissor kicks and backstrokes, have them brush up on their sales technique. That might be the one skill they need to play the game.


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