Sports on a shoestring

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 21, 2001

Activities cuts at Albert Lea High School hit athletics hard, taking out the cross country running and dance teams completely and slashing assistant coaches from most major sports, involving both boys’ and girls’ teams.

Friday, December 21, 2001

Activities cuts at Albert Lea High School hit athletics hard, taking out the cross country running and dance teams completely and slashing assistant coaches from most major sports, involving both boys’ and girls’ teams.

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The teams losing paid assistant coaches are – for both boys and girls – hockey, basketball, tennis, and swimming, as well as football, baseball, and wrestling for boys and softball for girls.

Besides teams and assistant coaches, the cuts include the elimination of the sports trainer and pom pon coaches.

When the decision was made about which sports to cut, the possibility of cutting more deeply – tennis and golf, among others – was discussed, but in the end the cross country team was the only one to feel the weight of the axe.

It came down to looking at numbers, and things like costs per participant relative to other sports, numbers of students participating and revenue, said Superintendent David Prescott. Decisions also had to be made based on numbers from last year. Ten members returned to last year’s cross country team, and this year there were 27 students involved, with 23 planning on returning next year. The dance team had comparable numbers.

Complicating the decision making was how the staffing of coaching positions fit into the number of students participating and the number of teams for each sport, Prescott said.

For example, one reason the soccer team didn’t see any reductions to coaching positions is that there are already only three coaches for three teams in that sport. The same is true for volleyball, another sport that escaped without reductions.

Another complication is the need to keep a balance between girls and boys sports, as part of the Title IX mandate, although this didn’t help the 25 students on the dance team or their coach, Sharla Kleinbeck. According to the state, the dance team is classified as a &uot;support activity&uot; for Title IX purposes, said Athletic Director Ross Williams.

&uot;They are all athletes in my opinion,&uot; Williams said. But the fact that dance isn’t considered a sport for Title IX made it more inevitable that they would be cut, he said.

The logic or inevitability of the cuts doesn’t help the students involved in cross country, however, and even the coaches are left wondering why this program seems to have been singled out.

&uot;It’s a tough situation. I’ve gone through a lot of emotions,&uot; said Chris Chalmers, the head coach of the cross country team. &uot;The hardest thing was telling the kids the next day and seeing the disappointment in their faces,&uot; he said.

The program was co-ed, and there was a guarantee of 100 percent participation. Cross country is handled as a lifetime sport, and students were encouraged to succeed at many levels, whether they wanted to challenge the best runners of the Big Nine Conference or simply work on getting or staying in shape, said Chalmers.

A number of parents have called Chalmers already, asking about ways to save the program or help bring it back somehow. They may start exploring options when school resumes after the Christmas break.

&uot;It really caught me off guard, that they cut the team entirely. I was expecting to lose a coach,&uot; Chalmers said, &uot;But I’m a team player – I’ve got to go forward from here.&uot;

&uot;We’re in a situation and something had to be done. This is one of those tough decisions that had to be made,&uot; said Williams.

The cuts will hit each sport differently. Most will lose at least one coach, and for sports with both varsity and junior varsity teams, the cuts will mean less time spent with each team by the coaches involved. The girls’ hockey team, for example, functions with one head coach, Mike Miller, and only two assistant coaches. Next year, Miller will have only one assistant. The same story will be true for boys and girls basketball, football, baseball and softball – all will lose one assistant coach position.

But for some sports, the coaches involved split up and share the stipends so that more people are available to work with the kids.

The boys’ hockey team currently converts its three stipends into one head coach and five assistants. Still, even with the sharing of compensation, things aren’t easy.

&uot;It’s already hard to run a decent program now, with only two assistant coaching positions,&uot; said Roy Nystrum, head coach of the boys’ hockey team. The split of two stipends into five assistants helps a lot, he said.

In a sport like hockey, where injuries can sometimes occur, having an extra coach around can help with safety, he said.

Assistant coaches also work with team members on specific skills. &uot;I work with goal tending,&uot; said Fred Nelson, an assistant coach for the Albert Lea Boys Hockey Team. Having extra personnel around makes it possible for more focused attention on specific skills, with coach and students working on specialized drills and conditioning. &uot;It’s impossible to have one adult, or even two, try to do everything with all of the kids,&uot; he said.

Nystrum is confident of a good team and a good experience next year, however, and all five current assistants are still planning on returning.

One position that will be missed by all teams, whether coaching staff was reduced or not, is the athletic trainer.

Currently, the district has a contract with Healthreach to provide a trainer every day after school and during most home games. Families are responsible for the costs associated with treating activity-related injuries, but the trainer supervises the taping up of student-athletes before practices and games, helping to minimize the risk of injury, and also assesses game and practice injuries when they occur.

With no contract for next year, coaches will be responsible for taping athletes and deciding what to do about injuries. With no trainer, the temptation may be to call 911 more frequently.