Parents and students assembled at Plank Junior High School on Monday evening for the SD308 Board of Education Open Forum meeting in support of preserving junior high athletics. This comes in the wake of the recent proposal to eliminate junior high athletics programs as a possible response to district-wide budget cuts. Community members had the opportunity to address any of their concerns directly to the board.
Many urged the board to add a referendum to the upcoming ballot to fund the junior high athletics program. Mother Toni VanDenend has five children that attend school in the district. Growing up with a single mother in a small rural community, she addressed the board by saying that playing basketball in junior high helped grow and build her character and eventually led her to become a state champion in high school.
“For a kid like me, sports were an opportunity… [It] taught me hard work, persistence, diligence, team work,” VanDenend said. “I think of the life lessons that I’ve learned through sports. For kids like me who couldn’t have afforded a club, what opportunities could there have been?”
7th grader Olivia VanDenend also spoke before the board about her experiences in cross country at Murphy Junior High School. She said that it was something that she loved to do and meant a great deal to her.
“We had a great team that supported each other. I made so many new friends, had fun, worked hard, and learned a lot. I have so many people to thank for that,” Olivia said.
The mother of two children in elementary school, junior high coach Beth Herrman voiced her concern to the board that her children who will not have the same experiences with junior high sports as she once did if junior high athletics are eliminated.
“I want my children to learn the importance of what it is to be a part of a school environment that values athletics, believes in sports, and contributes to positive social health,” Herrman said. “[Junior high sports] create a sense of community not only for the participants but for the student and teachers who cheer them on, whether they win or they lose. Students take pride in their teams that represent their school.”
There was also the concern that eliminating junior high sports will impact athletes at a higher level. Freshman Lauren Doskocil had played basketball for two years at Plank Junior High. She said before the board that it allowed her to build her skills for the next level.
“I participated in tryouts for Oswego East basketball, and I know it’s very hard and they expect you to have an understanding of the sport from a junior high level,” Doskocil said. “So going into a high school sport without that understanding might be very difficult for some people.”
Junior high student Olivia Koepke also shared this concern with the board. She said that junior high sports programs allow for practice time that students need to set a foundation they need in order to progress in their sport.
“We all know that practice will make us better at a certain skill, and expecting us to be good at sports without competitive practice in junior high is illogical,” Koepke said.
According to both parents and students that attended, junior high athletics teaches students more than just how to play a certain sport.
“It helps us interact with other people, know when it’s okay to win or lose, and it gives us a taste of competition, teamwork, and connection,” Doskocil said to the board. “It helps us with discovering what our values are, and helps us feel a part of the team and it goes way beyond sports.”
The next school board meeting will be held on November 11th at Oswego East High School.
Andrew Le is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl