Students from Murphy Junior High School voiced their disappointment to the Oswego School District 308 Board of Education April 8 over the pending elimination of interscholastic sports at the district's five junior high schools.
The board's action, which reduces junior high school team sports to the intramural level, will go into effect with the 2019-20 school year and is expected to save the district $350,000.
The pending change to junior high sports is part of a $1.4 million package of budget cuts and fee hikes passed by the board prior to the April 2 operating fund referendum. The board had agreed not to impose the budget cuts and fee hikes in the event voters passed the referendum. But voters rejected the referendum by a margin of 326 votes, 4,411 no votes to 4,085 yes votes, leaving the board to implement the cuts.
During the April 8 board meeting, three students from Murphy Junior High School, located in the Plainfield portion of the district, praised the benefits of competitive junior high school sports.
Sixth-grader Isabelle Gershan said she was, "Sad to hear the news that the referendum did not pass."
"Junior high sports are crucial to a child's development. Many students use this as an outlet for their energy," she said.
Gershan pointed out several benefits of athletic competition, including increased concentration due to nerve development and teamwork.
"We worked for hours on end to get into the sport we dreamed of for years and some of us finally made it. We put in all that time and energy to learn days later that the sport had been cut and all that hard work had been meaningless," Gershan said. "It saddens us that we cannot do the things we love and enjoy with our friends."
Udey Kohli, also a sixth-grader at Murphy, recalled Board Secretary Jared Ploger's comments at a previous board meeting concerning the changes to the athletic program.
"I've always wanted to play a competitive sport, so I could feel how loss and success in a game feels," Kohli said. "There are many things I've yet to experience, and I've been waiting for them ever since I was in fifth grade. This would impact all of my experiences negatively."
A member of Murphy's wrestling team, sixth grader Ethan Chan praised the competitive nature of the program.
"Intramurals are not competitive. We are not able to compete against athletes at other schools. It even runs the risk of becoming like an open gym time," Chan said.
As Chan touted the benefits of being a team player and learning how to rely on others, he told the board, "If you take away competitive sports at junior highs, forcing an open-gym style intramural (program), kids will not enjoy the sport as much due to a lack of organized competition."
He continued, "Competition is necessary for the development in any sport. Lack of it could cause a loss of interest in a sport, and at a high school level too. Remember when you were in my shoes? A sixth, almost seventh-grader looking forward to all the great opportunities sports at school offered you? Remember the fun you had? I'm glad you had that opportunity, and I would love to have that same option as well."
Later, during the meeting, outgoing Board President Brad Banks addressed the students' concerns, and the coming changes to the district.
"We'll adjust, the students will adjust. Kids going into junior high - I get it - but, they'll adjust, they're real resilient," he said.
"Those kids, they'll adjust, they'll get through it. It's the parents I'm concerned about, but as students they're young, they'll make it just fine," Banks said. "Hopefully things will change over the next few years, and we'll see some of these things come back...As a community, they've spoken, they gave us direction, and we're going to move forward."
The OSD 308 Board of Education will next meet Monday, April 29, at 7:15 p.m., in the Community Room of Oswego East High School.