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In Cali, a Community Rallies to Save School Sports

Jorge L. Ortiz | USA TODAY via YellowBrix

September 02, 2009

DIXON, Calif. — For a while, it appeared budget cuts at Dixon High School would make it harder for athletes Jeffery Anderson and Kayla Beal to impress college recruiters.

Faced with a $3 million budget shortfall, the school system 20 miles southwest of Sacramento decided in February to discontinue all sports at the town’s middle and high schools for the 2009-10 school year, a move that could have affected an estimated 600 of the 1,243 students at Dixon High. Dozens of students, including Anderson and Beal, would have faced unattractive options: continue going to Dixon while playing sports for another school, or transfer.

“It would have been weird,” says Anderson, starting quarterback on Dixon’s football team. “Especially for us, entering our senior year. We want to finish where we started.”

They now have that chance because the school board reconsidered and decided in May to provide basic sports funding — about $110,000, down from $280,000 the previous year — and because the parents and local community rallied to close part of the gap.

Through fundraisers — including a restaurant promotion, a test-drive program with a dealer and a fundraising drive where helmets were used to collect money — they raised more than $20,000, says Guy Garcia, president of the Dixon Schools Athletic Boosters. The group’s goal for the school year is $80,000-$85,000.

Parents now need to provide transportation to events, and Dixon teams compete in fewer tournaments, but the high school has retained its 17 sports from last year and added boys and girls water polo.

“It’s a challenge in lots of ways,” Brian Dolan, senior director of human resources and pupil resources, said of the transportation issues. "If you have a team of 40, that’s a lot more organizational work. It creates greater liability. There are series of forms kids have to fill out, the drivers have to fill out. There’s proof of insurance needed, medical consent forms for kids for treatment in case of accidents.

“It’s a lot of management.”

Principal Ivan Chaidez says the chance to play sports provides a huge incentive for students to perform academically, if for no other reason than to stay eligible. “You can’t have a high school without sports. It’s going to be chaos. There’s no way to hold kids accountable or keep kids engaged or maintain school spirit,” he says.

That school spirit translates into civic pride in a town of 17,330, where many teens find the main weekend activity is to “catch a ride to another town,” said Beal, a senior volleyball player. “There’s a Wal-Mart, and that’s about it.”

Her comments are echoed by parents, who say most organized athletic activities in town are geared toward younger kids. The booster club hopes to reinstate the stipends of up to $2,800 a year that varsity coaches received before the money was taken away in the budget crunch, prompting some coaches to quit those duties and work only as teachers.

Others, such as football coach Scott Winslow and basketball coach Matt Galindo, remained as volunteers even though those tasks can take up more than 25 hours a week.

Amid the emphasis on sports, at least one administrator says other areas are overlooked.

“We did a survey with students,” Dolan says, “and it was overwhelming with students and also with a lot of parents, that sports are a top priority — ahead of libraries, I’m sorry to say.”

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