Residents call foul

Following rumors of proposed budget cuts to middle school sports programs in Barbour County, concerned parents and community members have banded together to take a proactive approach to the situation. Nearly 100 residents attended a meeting Thursday at the Belington Fire Department to discuss ways to fund middle school sports should funding be cut from the board of education budget.

Although no discussion about cutting athletics between Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super and members of the board of education has been made public, residents claim they have heard rumors that the middle school sports program may be on the chopping block. Rather than wait for the hammer to fall, parents and community members are looking for ways to financially support children who want to participate in middle school sports.

A group including Lori Wetzel, Courtney Whited, Dion Wagoner, Buffie Brewer and Tammy Austin helped organize and lead the meeting.

“The purpose of our gathering is to find ways to fund middle schools sports,” Wetzel said. “This cut has not been proposed yet. Dr. Super said he will not confirm nor deny the possibility since it violates personnel issues to speak about it now.

“Dr. Super wanted me to say he appreciates the comments and phone calls he has received regarding this issue,” Wetzel told the group. “He said everything has been positive and everyone wants to be a part of the solution, not the problem.”

Wagoner told the group they tried to validate the facts.

“Belington and Philippi Middle School coaches (collectively) each are funded approximately $13,000 and Kasson coaches receive $7,000,” Wagoner said. “We need to come up with ideas to raise $33,000.”

The group said they intend to present ideas during Monday’s board of education meeting.

Many attendees agreed that the middle school is the time students are most vulnerable, and sports is important to keep kids on the right track.

“The board realizes the benefits of sports at this age,” Wagoner said. “They just cannot afford to pay for it. Other counties in this situation have adopted a ‘pay to play’ program for middle school sports.”

“I hope everyone is aware that the board of education let us know they needed money by running the bond and the levy (during November’s election),” Eddie Poling said. “I love the ‘pay to play’ idea. We have a very strong church community in our county and they would most likely help those who would not be able to pay.”

Kelly Thomason agreed with Poling.

“Youth sports has a small sign-up fee,” Thomason said. “It’s a great start.”

Whited said she received an idea from a friend on Facebook.

“He suggested we set up an alumni fund where folks could donate back to their middle school to help keep the programs going,” Whited said.

Missy Kaiser, who is also a Barbour County coach, said the “pay to play” idea had advantages.

“My fear is this is a low socioeconomic area and that will keep lots of kids from going out for sports,” Kaiser said. “I love the idea of the alumni giving as well. I am afraid if we start paying for sports, soon we will pay for music and band and many other things.”

Poling reminded the group that when levies do not pass, this is the direction where counties head.

Wetzel said she discussed this with Dr. Super.

“I asked him if we have to support middle school sports, if the board would revisit the issue every three years,” Wetzel said. “Dr. Super said he would want to revisit the issue every year.”

Wetzel also asked if there was anyone who would step forward who had grant writing experience to try and help obtain funds from that avenue.

Poling thanked the group for putting the meeting together. Other questions were asked about how to stay informed and how to keep in touch with the board of education.

“The board of education meets the second and fourth Mondays at 6 p.m. at the board office,” Wetzel said. “In order to speak, you must be on the agenda or sign in 15 minutes before the meeting begins. Only one person from the delegation may speak, but I encourage as many people who want to attend the meetings.

“We are all just trying to be a unified effort,” Wetzel said. “If we all come together, we can do it.”

Group members said they will create a Facebook page with updates to keep everyone in the loop. They asked for solid commitment from the group, and promised to have the Facebook page available in the next few days.

The group plans to present their ideas for funding for middle school sports at the Barbour County Board of Education meeting Monday.

“The budget cuts are not on the agenda for that night,” Wetzel said. “But we want the board to know we are concerned and want to keep sports for our middle school children.”