Middle school sports went through change

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Column: Super Notes, by Mike Funk

Albert Lea Area Schools used to participate in a middle school sports program called Youth First. This was a program that was run by the city, with Albert Lea Area Schools contributing money through its general fund and its community education fund. The city picked up the remaining one-third of the cost.

Mike Funk

At the end of the 2011-12 school year, the city and the district collectively planned to cancel the program. Our concern as a school district was primarily of liability. Because the coaches were hired by the city, they were not required to go through a background check or have their employment approved by our school board. Yet these coaches were working with our students, and two-thirds of the financial commitment was coming from the school district.

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Another concern brought to our attention was participation. In many cases, the stronger programs in our community were the youth sports programs, which in some cases were competing with our middle school programs for field usage or gym space.

Therefore, in the spring of 2012, a plan was developed that would eliminate redundant sports. If a sport was not offered within the community, the district would fund the sport and hire the coaches.

If the sport was offered in the community, the district would allow the sport to practice at district-owned facilities free of charge during the school week. If custodians were needed on the weekends, we would charge our normal facility rental.

This plan is advantageous for a few reasons: Community winter sports programs are projected to save thousands of dollars in rental fees during the winter. There is less competition for gym space, and our students who play certain sports will no longer be compelled to double up practices.

Since the implementation of this plan, there have been a number of questions related to this adjustment. I will attempt to answer them below:

Question: As a requirement to use district facilities, the district is requiring our organization to have our own liability insurance and the district will not help us pay for it under its insurance program. Why is the district taking this approach?

Answer: Since we have no control over the youth programs in Albert Lea, we cannot cover liability for coaches or organizations that use our facilities.

Question: The district’s actions have hurt our feeder program, especially in the Big Nine, where we will no longer be competing against other Big Nine schools.

Answer: Three Big Nine schools have no middle school sports, while a fourth is in the process of completely cutting its middle school program. Those schools that still have middle school sports programs do not compete on a Big Nine schedule. They typically play local teams from schools closest to their community.

Question: There is a statement on my child’s youth sign-up form that states the district does not endorse or support my child’s youth program. Why is this statement there?

Answer: Any literature from an outside entity that is asked to be passed out through the school district and is approved for distribution is stamped “Albert Lea Area Schools is not sponsoring, endorsing, or recommending the activities announced in this flier.”

This comes from our Policy No. 505, Guideline for Distribution of Materials on School District Property by Non-School Persons. This does not mean the district does not support programs for our youth. For legal purposes, we place this disclaimer on all forms that we approve for distribution from the district by outside entities.


Mike Funk is the superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools.