Does Whole Child, Whole Community mean fewer sports? Coach looks for alternatives.

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Does Whole Child, Whole Community mean fewer sports? Coach looks for alternatives.

Lucy Newman, Senior Writer, The Eagle Online

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series concerning Whole Child, Whole Community

“The concept of ‘fewer sports’ for Pittsburgh Public Schools just doesn’t make sense,” says Mark Rauterkus, Obama’s boys swimming coach. Mr. Rauterkus has put considerable thought and effort into creating a vision for the future of PPS sports–a vision that could be an alternative to the bleak future presented in the “Whole Child, Whole Community” report published by PPS. The result of this endeavor is a position paper advocating for a series of changes to the way PPS sports are run.

The “Whole Child” report suggested cutting back on sports, including possibly eliminating middle school swimming, volleyball, and wrestling; high school tennis, golf, and swimming; and all intramurals. Mr. Rauterkus envisions an expansion of the number of sports programs offered and the quality of programs that exist.

Mr. Rauterkus’s goals for the district in general are similar to those of the PPS administration. He agrees that “accelerating student achievement, eliminating racial disparities, becoming a district of first choice, and creating a student-centered culture” are good aims. Yet he believes that in order to do this, the district needs to provide engaging programs to its students, including a comprehensive, high-quality athletics program.

Why we need a better sports program

According to Mr. Rauterkus, cutting back on sports is exactly the opposite of what the PPS needs in order to reach the goals set out at the beginning of the “Whole Child” report. The district claims that one of its goals is to “become a district of first choice.” Yet Mr. Rauterkus anticipates that “With fewer sports, more students are going to depart from the city and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.” The quality of a school’s athletics program can be a key factor in students’ decisions as to whether or not to attend it. He cites an article about South-Western City School District, in Ohio, where sports cuts implemented in 2009 led to the departure of more than 100 student athletes.

Further, the district hopes to “accelerate student achievement” and increase the percentage of students who are ‘promise-ready’ upon graduation. “Sports help students get ‘promise ready’” Mr. Rauterkus says. “[W]ith sports, students gain admission to better colleges with more financial aid. … Athletes do better in the classroom with higher grades in both high school and college.”

Mr. Rauterkus hopes that PPS will use sports to improve the city. “Sports can be a key to helping fix some of the problems in the district, the city and region,” he says. Sports are an important teaching tool, he believes, that are not currently being utilized to their full potential. “PPS does not need fewer sports, but rather: better, smarter, more flexible and sustainable sports. We need integrated lessons from sports and wellness, and engaging sports experiences that span years, generations and communities.”

Restructuring

Mr. Rauterkus proposes to restructure sports in order to organize a robust program that would provide more effectively to the city of Pittsburgh and to PPS students. He envisions PPS athletics being run as a joint project of government organizations, nonprofits, and corporations. On the level of local government, this would include existing organizations such as the PPS athletic department and Citiparks, as well as newly proposed organizations such as the ‘Athletic Reform Task Force,’ the ‘Olympic Sports Division’ and ‘PPS H2O.’

The Athletic Reform Task Force existed when Mark Roosevelt was superintendent but was dropped by Linda Lane in favor of private consultants. If it were re-convened, it would be in charge of overseeing changes to the PPS athletic program. “Rich discussions about philosophy with data, hard evaluations and long-term planning should occur with both district personnel and coaching leaders,” Mr. Rauterkus says. The Athletic Reform Task Force would ensure that such discussions are held. The Task Force would also have a research component that examines student data and would investigate the impact of sports on students.

The Olympic Sports Division would take the place of cut intramurals, and would oversee the following sports: swimming, golf, tennis, cross-country, track, water polo, cycling, triathlon, and ultimate frisbee. It would look into opportunities to develop teams in less conventional sports such as ice hockey, rugby, bowling, fencing, weightlifting, table tennis, diving, kayaking, crew, judo and skiing. The Olympic Sports Division would be different from PPS Athletics because it would give students more opportunities. “In due time, as the Olympic Sports Division takes root, a Community Congress would set policies in a democratic process. Sports participation can be driven by citizens, by student desires,” says Mr. Rauterkus. The Olympic Sports Division would get start-up money from the sports that it eliminates from the PPS Athletics budget, and then it would become more self-sustaining. “The proposed Olympic Sport Division would have PPS cooperation but would be more independent and much like a college sports athletic department that operates as a subsidiary,” says Mr. Rauterkus.

PPS H2O is Mr. Rauterkus’s vision for the district’s aquatics program. At first, PPS H2O would be part of the PPS organization, although it would eventually become an independent, self-sustaining non-profit organization. In addition to high-level competitive swim teams, PPS H2O could feature diving, water polo, triathlons, synchronized swimming, underwater hockey, water basketball, kayaking, canoeing, snorkeling, and lifeguarding programs, to name a few. It would teach people of all ages how to swim. It would feature camps, parties and celebrations, competitive teams, clinics, and performances.

PPS Athletics would still handle football, basketball, soccer and volleyball, as well as some other WPIAL sports. The budget for these key sports would be the only money PPS has to pay on an ongoing basis for its athletics teams.

These organizations would work together, and would partner with nonprofit organizations and private businesses in the city to provide a high-quality sports program to anyone who is interested in it.

Specific goals of the new organizations

The goal for the Athletic Reform Task Force is to decide on and implement changes for the PPS sports program. Mr. Rauterkus’s position paper could be a blueprint for the possible changes, but Mr. Rauterkus knows that it “needs editing, expansion, and support with cost-benefits analysis and SWOT [Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat] charts. Votes from those on the re-established Athletic Reform Task Force would assure different opinions on different matters get debated and represented.” The whole process would be democratic in nature.

The Olympic Sports Division would set policies through a democratic process. Some policies that Mr. Rauterkus hopes the Olympic Sports Division will consider include paid permits for special events, shared student data, distance coaching, tech advances, PE credit, booster groups, season ticket plans, co-op restructuring, media guides, and junior lessons for younger kids taught by supervised high school athletes.

Paid permits for special events would be an opportunity for the program to raise revenue on events such as triathlons and other races, swimming meets, and even birthday parties. Sharing student data would allow for serious research to investigate what programs are needed. Distance coaching allows one expert to supervise and guide individuals and small groups at various schools. Investing in tech advances would keep the programs modern, help with scientific literacy and personal performance measures, and could be critical for motivation. PE credits could be provided to students for participating in sports teams. Booster groups would raise money and organize events for all teams, and would post budgets online. Season ticket sales would be a further means of increasing revenue. Co-ops, or alliances between certain teams (i.e. U-Prep, Sci-Tech, and Obama joining to form “USO”), could be restructured to be more geographically convenient and more financially efficient. Media guides would help build community relationships, fan interest through advertising, and promote students to college recruiters. Junior lessons taught by supervised high schoolers, as happens with PPS Summer Dreamers’ Swim and Water Polo Camp, would be a cost-effective method of teaching young children how to swim while giving older students valuable job experience.

PPS H2O would run the city’s aquatics program. One important initiative that PPS H2O would build on is the Summer Dreamers Academy. Mr. Rauterkus suggests that not only should there be a full-day camp like Summer Dreamers, but there should also be a half-day camp. The demand for Summer Dreamers was so high last year that Mr. Rauterkus is confident that the camp could easily be expanded.

Funding a robust athletics program

“Understand that cutting swimming isn’t about money,” says Mr. Rauterkus. A robust athletics program would be able to fund itself, he claims, if the community could work in creative ways to pay for something that it cares  about.

PPS would contribute a small amount to the start-up costs of the programs, but after that they would become self-sustaining. These start-up costs could come from some of the money that will be saved by reducing the number of sports in the PPS Athletics Department.

From his experience as a swim coach for the Plum district’s high school, Mr. Rauterkus knows that “In 1992, a weekend YMCA invitational swim meet at Plum High School in a 6-lane pool earned $10,000.” Why not use the same revenue-generating strategy in PPS, Mr. Rauterkus wonders? “In meets alone, Pittsburgh should be offering 5 to 12 meets a year at our pools, earning $50,000 to $120,000,” he says.

Sponsorships could also be an important source of revenue for PPS sports. Three years ago, Obama Academy was offered a $50,000 sponsorship. Due to district policy, this had to be turned down. In Mr. Rauterkus’s vision, all PPS high schools could receive sponsorships comparable to that amount. This could go a long way towards funding sports programs.

Further, PPS H2O could raise revenue on its camps, parties and celebrations, competitive teams, clinics, and performances. Mr. Rauterkus believes PPS H2O will create enough revenue to sustain itself and to teach all seven-year-olds in the city of Pittsburgh how to swim for free. Swim lessons can be life-saving for young children, he says, but they also foster healthy interest in this valuable program. As the children get older, the ones who become more serious about the aquatics program would be more likely to support it financially.

Mr. Rauterkus sketches out a proposal for how the All-City Sports Camp would be funded. PPS H2O would sell pool tags for about $60 per kid. For 1,000 kids, that’s already up to $60,000. Other revenue sources would include sponsorships from private corporations, profit gained from hosting races and competitions, and merchandise sales. By hiring a higher proportion of high-school students to teachers, Mr. Rauterkus is able to make the numbers line up. Further, this would give meaningful work experience to students.

Finally, Mr. Rauterkus points out that from the standpoint of specific athletes, participating in sports saves money. If the PPS sports program were to focus more on getting scholarships for its athletes, each team could win hundreds of thousands of dollars. “One school in one sport can capture, on average, $200,000 per year if each graduation class averages $50,000 in college / talent scholarships,” he claims.  Explaining this number, he says that each team could earn two full scholarships of $15,000 per year (one boy and one girl captain) with second captains gaining partial scholarships with a value of $10,000 per year. The sum for that class is $50,000. Over the four years, the sum is $200,000.”

Reactions to Mr. Rauterkus’s proposal

Many students, teachers, and community members are intrigued by Mr. Rauterkus’s ideas for the district. Obama Academy’s eleventh grade history teacher, Mr. Schaefer, agrees with Mr. Rauterkus that the district needs something positive to attract people to the district. “If you want to be a district of first choice, we need to be offering extracurricular activities that are going to draw people to the city,” Mr. Schaefer says.

Mr. Ehman, IB coordinator and film teacher at Obama, believes that the district needs to make an aggressive push to improve things. Rather than cutting back, what we should be doing is looking for opportunities to expand. We need to invest in things that will make people want to come here, and that will make the people who are already here be more motivated to excel. A robust athletics program is in line with these goals.

Many of Mr. Rauterkus’s specific suggestions have support from some students and teachers. Mr. Schaefer likes the idea of providing PE credits for participating in sports. He points out that “Students who participate in extracurricular activities outside the school day dominate gym class, and the people who really need it are the ones who tend not to participate as much in gym class. The athletes could benefit from more time in classes, and the non-athletes could benefit from having a gym class more geared towards them.”

Levi Brown, an eleventh grader, likes the idea of expanding Summer Dreamers. “You gotta look at the benefits,” he says, “the high school students are getting paid, and from the middle school side, students are getting skills from other students.”

Many of Mr. Rauterkus’s suggestions are controversial. The good thing about Mr. Rauterkus’s plan is that only the ideas that people tend to agree with will be implemented. If his plan is implemented, they will be debated within the new organizations and amongst the general public. His new organizations, including the Athletic Reform Task Force, the Olympic Sports Division, and PPS H2O, would be run democratically, allowing the program to mold to the community’s needs.

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