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Ripon Unified’s middle school sports programs in jeopardy

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POSTED July 1, 2009 3:43 a.m.
RIPON – The future of school sports for elementary students is up in the air.

The Ripon Unified Board of Education spent more than an hour Tuesday discussing the future of after-school sports programs for seventh and eighth grade students – citing the elimination of the stipends that were given to teachers and coaches as the factor that might halt the popular offering.

With additional factors like the district’s collective bargaining agreement and equality laws, finding a suitable option isn’t going to be something that comes easy to Ripon’s educational brass either.

Ripon High varsity basketball coach Rod Wright pitched his idea for a single district-wide basketball team that would allow for high school coaches to still evaluate players and give middle school students an avenue to work their way into the four-year program.

The idea wasn’t widely accepted by district administrators and union representatives like Claire Russell who claimed it would violate the collective bargaining agreement and open the district up for litigation.

Parkview Elementary Principal Mona Ogden summarized the plight the district now faces and why the decision to halt all athletics – even if a volunteer-based program were to be implemented – might be the only fair way to go.

“There’s only so many ways that you can give in a situation like this,” Ogden said. “What happens when Weston has a program because they’re able to get volunteers but Ripona doesn’t – that puts pressure from the school and the community on teachers to step up and fill those positions, and we felt that was unfair.”

Creating equality, however, wasn’t the only reason that teachers approved the elimination of stipends. Two P.E. positions that are used by the entire district would have to be eliminated if the stipends were to be offered next year, and the concept of offering outdoor activities to everybody in the district rather than a select few seemed like a no-brainer.

Ripon Elementary Principal Mike Larson stressed the fact that funding for sports should come after staff and academic performance are taken care of – something that isn’t guaranteed with Sacramento’s funding shortage.

“Right now we’re facing unprecedented times, and we’re going to have to make a decision about where to focus our very limited revenue,” Larson said. “We need to make sure that our employees are getting paid, and we take care of academic funding first.”

But others in the crowd were extremely supportive of the idea Wright was pitching, and urged the board and district staffers to check every possible outlet to make sure the sports programs are part of the offering for students during the upcoming school year.

Ripon High wrestling coach Glen White, who this year helped start a district-wide elementary wrestling program, said that the concept worked well when he saw it implemented and noted that the wrestling program has enough left over to allow its offering for at least one more year.

Trustee Ernie Tyhurst said that preliminary discussions he had with the City of Ripon were positive and that volleyball and basketball were two programs that could possibly be picked up by the city if an agreement with the school district was worked out.

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