Reaction to Maine Principals’ Association cost-cutting proposals to trim high school sports schedules around the state has reached the halls of Augusta.
At least two bills have been submitted to the state Legislature that seek to address the MPA’s jurisdiction over interscholastic athletics throughout Maine.
An ad hoc committee of the MPA last month recommended several changes in reaction to recent reductions and anticipated further cuts in state subsidy for education to school systems throughout the state.
Those recommendations include cutting regular-season varsity schedules by two countable games in sports where the present number of games is 12 or more and by one game in sports where the present number is 10 or fewer; limiting teams to two noncountable dates including scrimmages, exhibition games and preseason or holiday tournaments; reducing the percentage of teams eligible for postseason play in Heal point sports from two-thirds to 50 percent, with the MPA’s Basketball Committee then urged to move preliminary-round games in that sport to tournament sites in Bangor, Augusta or Portland; cutting the sports seasons for swimming and ice hockey by one week; withdrawing Maine from New England competitions; and freezing game officials’ pay and travel fees for two years.
Those proposals are scheduled to be voted upon by the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee on Jan. 26. If approved, the 50 percent rule and countable-game proposals would become MPA policy this spring, with the rest of the recommendations to take effect at the start of the 2009-10 school year.
House Republican leader Josh Tardy of Newport, who has submitted one of the bills, said he found it ironic that the MPA is among organizations that don’t like proposed school consolidation efforts because of the loss of local control, yet the MPA wants to take a “one-size-fits-all approach” to athletics from Kittery to Fort Kent.
Tardy’s legislation targets three of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, including the MPA’s ability to limit the number of noncountable games, which he considers “a local issue.”
If the 50 percent recommendation is approved and the preliminary-round basketball games are moved from higher-seeded schools to a tournament site, Tardy’s legislation would seek to have those gate receipts shared with the schools involved to make up revenues the individual schools earned under the current format.
Tardy’s bill also calls for Maine athletes to be allowed to continue to compete in New England events.
“I understand you’ve got to have a governing body to protect the integrity of high school athletics, just like you have to have the NCAA for colleges,” said Tardy, an attorney and businessman who also has experience as an assistant high school basketball coach. “But at some point you’ve got to let the communities be communi-ties when it comes to these kinds of decisions, and you’ve got to let conferences be conferences when it comes to doing what’s in the best interest of their schools.”
Rep. Kerri Prescott’s bill seeks to provide for more public input into the MPA’s decision-making process, and results from the feedback she has received in the aftermath of the Dec. 19 announcement of the ad hoc committee’s proposals.
“There’s really no protocol in place for the public to be heard,” she said.
A former track coach at Mount Ararat of Topsham and the parent of three athletes who participate in track — including a son now on the track team at Dartmouth College and a daughter at Mount Ararat who competed in the 2008 New Englands — Prescott sees the New England events as beneficial to the student-athletes in-volved, including the chance to participate in the highest level of competition..
“I know a number of kids who have been recruited from that [track] meet,” she added.
Prescott also stressed that while schools may routinely pay the $15 per athlete entry fee for an athlete to compete in the New England championships, lodging and transportation for those athletes typically are paid by parents or the student-athletes themselves.
Prescott also expressed opposition to limiting the number of countable and noncountable games, citing the economic loss in ticket and concessions sales.
“Sports boosters groups are a very involved party in this, and to have shorter seasons takes away from their money makers, the home football games and home soccer games,” Prescott said. “And to take away the ability to host the New England track meet is a big economic loss to that community.”
Maine hosted the 2008 New England outdoor track and field championships last June at Thornton Academy in Saco, and is scheduled to host the 2009 New England swimming and diving championships at Bates College in Lewiston on Feb. 28.
“They may have had good intentions,,” said Prescott of the MPA, “but there are several unintended consequences that I don’t think were very well thought out.”
Prescott said the legislation will be referred to the proper committee for further consideration.