May 26, 2018
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Dropping NE events saves little


Recommendations by the Maine Principals’ Association that would cut varsity sport schedules in response to the nation’s economic travails have elicited plenty of reaction.

Some of the most emotional feedback has come to the proposal for Maine to drop out of New England championships in such sports as track and field, cross country and wrestling.

The Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance has issued a position statement lamenting the plan because the New Englands are considered the highlight of the season for many top individual performers, and it’s also the best chance for elite wrestlers from the state to gain exposure to college coaches.

Even more vocal is the state’s track and field community, which is organizing on several fronts in advance of the Jan. 26 vote on the proposals by the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee.

Track athletes and parents are being encouraged to contact IMC members about their concerns, as well as to “walk a lap in protest” during this weekend’s indoor track meets around the state.

Are these efforts enough? Unlikely, unfortunately.

I’ve always had the sense that the MPA hierarchy has never been too keen on the New Englands, and I’m a little fearful the economic situation is being exploited as an excuse to cut and run from those competitions once and for all.

Maine did drop out of those events for 22 years until reinstating participation in 1999.

And the MPA didn’t allow full cross country teams from Maine the chance to compete at the New Englands until 2005, its approval coming only after supporters took their case to the state Legislature.

The MPA says its proposals are an effort to take across-the-board action to cut costs in hopes of preventing schools from cutting individual sports or gutting subvarsity or middle-school offerings, all while striving to ensure equal opportunity for athletes throughout Maine.

But dropping out of the New Englands seems a case of denying opportunity while achieving little financial gain.

In its 2008-09 wrestling and indoor track bulletins, the MPA provides that for New England competitions “it is the parents’ or school’s responsibility to pay all fees, transportation, lodging, etc., for the athletes and coach,” — a statement that opens the door for private funding of such participation.

And research done by Brewer cross country coach Glendon Rand suggests that in that sport, the financial input by schools is confined largely to the $15 per athlete entry fee, with transportation, lodging and other costs funded largely by nonschool sources.

Anecdotal evidence from the wrestling community suggests a similar funding trend — so while the MPA recommendation looks good on paper, the savings may be minuscule and not worth ditching the opportunity of a lifetime.

Any policymaker at any level of bureaucracy in Maine is on constant watch for data that will hold this state’s efforts in a positive light relative to the rest of New England and the nation. It’s the competitive nature of the workplace just as much as it is a matter of self-preservation — particularly in these times of economic strain.

It’s a similar competitive nature shared by the state’s top athletes, who merely want to continue testing themselves against the rest of the best in New England.

If the MPA really wants to save schools some money, they might figure out a scheduling mechanism so Calais doesn’t have to travel to Madawaska and Bath to fill out its basketball schedule each year.

Now there are some savings waiting for a solution.


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