School board member plans committee to discuss youth sports

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

School Board member Chanz Keeney is leading a District 55 School Board committee that is exploring the idea of reinstating a district elementary sports program.

“The board did give me permission to look into, to represent the board,” said Keeney, a member of the board. He is joined by Jason Redick, Supt. Larry Horton and Business Manager Kevin Strong. Board member Jeff Lynn has also expressed an interest in serving on the committee. Horton also serves on the Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors.

The Boys and Girls Club is looking at a meeting with the committee, Boys and Girls Club of Sweet Home Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin said.

The Boys and Girls Club operates elementary-level sports programs in Sweet Home.

McLaughlin said club officials met with Horton last week, and he filled them in about the committee and asked for facts about the club’s programs, including information on traveling and schedules. That information will be available to the committee when completed.

“We want to know what his main concerns are, and if there really are concerns,” McLaughlin said. “We really don’t think there is.”

The board, in a nutshell, wanted the committee to talk with the Boys and Girls Club and gather information about that program, cost and facilities, Horton said. From there the committee must determine the feasibility, the level of community interest and whether to pursue it. The School Board will make the final decision.

Keeney plans to hold a public meeting in two or three weeks, he said. Before that time, he would like to give people the chance to think and talk about it and then bring their questions and thoughts to the meeting.

The purpose is to find out whether the community thinks there is a need to reinstate the program, he said. “In the early 1990s, sports were cut from schools due to budget shortfalls.”

The district hasn’t seriously looked at restoring elementary sports since then, he said. “I want to hear from the public. I want them to give their input. After that meeting, we’ll have a round table and then go from there.”

“I would think that he’s jumping the gun a little bit,” McLaughlin said about scheduling a public meeting. McLaughlin said he thinks that the district committee should make that call.

Some will raise the question of cost, Keeney said, but this meeting is not about money.

Horton said the only cost estimate he’s comfortable releasing at this point is the cost of teachers staying after school and coaching the teams, about $1,000 per coach.

“I need to investigate what the costs would be of a long-term intramural program,” he said.

The meeting “is giving the community the chance to speak,” Keeney said. “Are they happy with a private business being their only choice for sports or would they prefer something run by the School District?”

Money is tight, he said, but a program could operate with volunteer help to cut down the costs.

The available programs can be tough on families, requiring out-of-town trips and children getting home late, he told the board during its regular meeting on Oct. 13. A local district elementary program could have children home by 6 p.m. for dinner with time to do their homework.

“The main concern I’d have is cost,” Horton said during the board meeting.

Redick said he found the idea interesting.

“It’s something to investigate,” said Ken Roberts, a board member who has coached at various age levels. “I really understand his argument in terms of having to travel and doing homework. Kids have to be kids. At some point they have to get home.”

John Fassler, a board member, said he would be like to gauge community interest.

Jeff Lynn, a board member, said cost would be a big factor, but he was open to considering the public need for it.

None of those four board members, Fassler, Lynn, Roberts and Redick, raised any concerns about the existing Boys and Girls Club sports programs.

Brandy James, a member of the audience, indicated that he was also interested.

“It would be real easy to do a cost comparison,” he said, between a district program and the Boys and Girls Club. He said he has children who play sports, and he has to pay for membership even though his children don’t spend time at the club.

Keeney recently wrote a letter to the editor critical of the Boys and Girls Club sports program, he said. He said that letter was written in his role as a parent.

Keeney said he is approaching the question about restoring elementary sports as a board member.

In the seven years he has lived here, Horton said, while there are always individual issues, he has heard “many positive things about their (Boys and Girls Club) programs.”

On this committee, he expects to find some “positive possibilities – as long as we all keep an open mind and support each other,” he said. “I think there are definitely activities we can do intramural – A districtwide track meet in the spring. I think that’d be a really fun activity for the fifth and sixth grade. Maybe we could do that in other sports too if we really looked at it.”

The district’s new PE teachers could probably spend some time helping organize this, he said, ideas that could complement everybody’s programs.

All school district residents are invited to the meeting, he said. It doesn’t matter whether they have children – “We all pay taxes.”

Keeney is working on finding a guest who will give a 20-minute speech about the health of elementary children in sports, their age ranges and what is best taught at what age, level of competitiveness, benefits to children, social skills and injury prevention among young children.

The meeting will include a break that will allow people to talk with the guest speaker, whom he has not identified yet, he said, and then people will be given the opportunity to speak in an open forum.

“What choices do they want for the children of the community?” he asked. “I would hope to roll into kind of an open discussion about what ideas people have to implement something in the School District.”

During this process, he said he would welcome anonymous comments, placed in an envelope and addressed to him, to be delivered to any school office in the district, he said, providing a great opportunity for direct input to a board member.

Keeney said he is considering holding the meeting on a Sunday afternoon, a time when people will be home and could attend the meeting, he said. He would like input from the public about the meeting time, which he hopes to set for a date just after the Nov. 4 election.