With budgets shrinking, should middle schools cast off sports?

Many countries, including Finland, do not offer sports at schools. Sports are community-based rather than school based.

I wonder if that could eventually become the U.S. model as schools struggle to decide which programs to jettison to cope with diminished budgets. I don’t see high school sports disappearing, but I am hearing about middle schools cutting back on their sports offerings or shifting more costs to parents.

Here is a recent AJC story on the dilemma:

Clayton County Public schools is negotiating with the county’s parks and recreation system to assume operation of its middle school sports teams in hopes that the district won’t have to terminate its sports programs to balance next year’s school budget.

As it stands now, Clayton’s school system needs to cut $16 million from next year’s budget. Scrapping the middle school sports program would save the district nearly $900,000 a year, superintendent Edmond Heatley told the school board recently. The issue is likely to be addressed at a weekend retreat where Heatley will present the board with a final slate of proposed cuts.

Although details are sketchy, school board chair Pam Adamson said parks and recreation would take responsibility for the middle school sports program and would likely use school facilities. Troy Hodges, Clayton parks and recreation assistant director, confirmed discussions were ongoing but could not comment on detail.

“It’ll be the same sports program we currently have but we’re looking for clarification,” Adamson said. She said she was encouraged by the idea because it would allow more students to play sports. The number of students playing on school teams is currently limited.

“I’m willing to compromise, but I just don’t favor [cutting middle school sports] at all,” said board member Jessie Goree, a former middle school teacher. “It’s a very vital part of middle school. Middle school sports builds character and teamwork. It’s a good connection between curriculum and sport itself. It’s not just for the athlete but [other] students as well.”

Opposition to the proposed plan has drawn opposition from parents, including some who vow to leave the county if the district goes through with ending middle school sports, Goree said.

Those sports affected include football, basketball, volleyball and track. The plan would not affect the district’s physical education classes.

A Hampton mother of 12- and 9-year-old sons, called the district’s proposal “ridiculous.”  “I can’t believe it’s even up for discussion. Our kids don’t have enough physical activity in the school as it is,” she said. “My youngest one is ready to play football and is looking forward to it. If it’s taken out of the schools, the only opportunity [he] would have is for me to pay for him to join a church league. It’s $800 off the top for the uniforms, fees and traveling.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

63 comments Add your comment


April 26th, 2012
11:51 am

with all the issues surrounding the budget and the added issue of concussions and their affect on youth sports, i anticipate the sports in general are going to take a big hit.. Middle school is the obvvious place to start.


April 26th, 2012
11:53 am

But…..but….but….the Govt. says the recession is over and things are getting back to normal. So, what’s this nonsense about diminished budgets?

Old timer

April 26th, 2012
11:59 am

I lived I another state that even had 4th grade teams. I kind of thought that strange. This area expected the schools to do it all. Needless to say….they cannot anymore. Maybe this extra a tivity is the parents responsibility.

Warrior Woman

April 26th, 2012
12:11 pm

Most school districts in Georgia already shift the costs to families for sports and other extracurriculars, such as band.


April 26th, 2012
12:14 pm

Gwinnett County has had only basketball in middle school for as long as I can remember. For those who say their children need physical activity, our school offered intramural sports a couple of days a week.

Sports teams are not crucial to the whole point of a school — educate the children. Maybe Clayton County could keep one team sport. Of course then you’d have people upset that they nixed the sport their kid plays.

Howard Finkelstein

April 26th, 2012
12:15 pm

Middle school sports? Isnt that what the YMCA or Mom and Dad is for?

C Jae of EAV

April 26th, 2012
12:18 pm

I believe inter-scholastic sports at the middle school level could easily be done away with. There are sufficient opportunities to engage in such activities either through county parks/rec depts, YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs and numerous inter-county youth leagues for all of the major sports (Football, Basketball, Baseball & Soccer). I believe at this point local school districts could afford to nix these sports programs without lessoning the available opportunity for youngers so interesting in pursuing a given sport.

I would leverage some of the potential savings to fund arts related programs (such as band) which have previously been eliminated.


April 26th, 2012
12:19 pm

Parents of children who want to play non-subsidized sports, like soccer, have to pony up. It is absurd to spend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on sports that only allow a relative handful of students to participate.

Hampton Mom, why should taxpayers fund your child’s extracurricular activity, particularly if it takes funding away from academic programs? Pay your $800 just like parents of kids who like ballet or horseback riding or ice hockey or gymnastics or tae kwqn doe or lots of other, non-subsidized sports must, or choose not to have your child play.

Ron F.

April 26th, 2012
12:22 pm

Some kids play at middle school AND in local rec. ctr. leagues. Seems redundant anyway, so do away with the middle school sports. I guarantee the rec. ctr. sports will be cheaper and save parents money too for uniforms, equipment, etc. If it’s sports or keeping a school open and staffed, then the sports need to go.

Ole Guy

April 26th, 2012
12:34 pm

This “diminished budget” crap is simply another “the sky is falling” scare tactic. When one observes the life styles afforded the government bean counters and decision makers, one has to wonder…WHONHELL’S KIDING WHO? With oppulance approaching that of Sadam’s palace (WAS Sadam’s palace), life styles of the rich and famous at far too many levels, abuse of government credit cards dating back further than I care to think about; and a grand host of spending patterns, at ALL levels of government, which only serve as vivid demonstrations of the concept of abject waste, how can anyone…anyone of RESPONSIBLITY…in government not see how sports is just as integral a component to a good education as the R-cubed domain.

It’s all about spending priorities, something which is entirely foreign in government circles.


April 26th, 2012
12:37 pm

Has Buford heard about this nonsense ?


April 26th, 2012
12:37 pm

Why is it that the programs that are suggested for shrinking are always ones that directly impact students? Does anyone is a decision making role ever suggest school systems shrink in the admin and support areas?

Being Censored by @Maureen

April 26th, 2012
12:39 pm

The answer is emphatically NO. The fact that Clayton County is considering this just demonstrates how their school board is mis-managing their funds! I saw a spreadsheet this morning showing FTE for every school district in the state of Georgia. Clayton County is the fifth largest school system and has an abysmal graduation rate of 51 per cent! The problem is not the dollars, it’s how the money has been spent.

Once you all realize this, then maybe there can be real change in Georgia. Sports is just as important as core curriculum, and every one of you should be outraged that this is even under consideration.

Just pathetic.


April 26th, 2012
12:52 pm

Clayton can’t afford to lose the students of parents who vow they will leave the district (nor do I think a lot of parents can really afford to leave), and they can’t afford to keep spending money the way they do. I participated in middle school sports in Clayton back in the early 90’s, but it was a very different time and we were in very different economic situations. Having worked in Clayton schools as an adult, I believe that more money/effort/time must be spent on getting students to where they need to be academically, and getting the system back to not being the laughingstock of the Atlanta area.

HS Public Teacher

April 26th, 2012
12:55 pm

To a degree, I do not understand the connect (all of the time) between sports and school budgets.

Many sports can occur with little to no money coming from the school. And, most parents are happy to spend a little money so that their child can participate.

Why cannot schools allow sports to happen as long as the parents are willing to pay? Why should schools be a road block to this?

That is the part that I don’t understand.

Being Censored by @Maureen

April 26th, 2012
12:59 pm

I am astounded at the comments coming out of this blog post. “Why cannot schools allow sports to happen as long as the parents are willing to pay?” Is that REALLY what all of you think. With no disrespect to HS Public Teacher, I just can’t believe I am seeing such a question. This is why public education is in dire straits.

Being Censored by @Maureen

April 26th, 2012
1:01 pm

Lets cut art, music, PE, and anything that’s not academic. We’ll just teach a bunch of robots.


April 26th, 2012
1:09 pm

Part of the reason schools budgets are so tight are all the stupid (I said it) crud that the schools must now implement that has not done a thing to improve the output. If they eliminated some (most) of these beaurocratic nonsensical programs not only could sports continue, but the schools could use much less money!

HS Public Teacher

April 26th, 2012
1:09 pm

Some realities:

1. Tax collections are decreasing.
2. Education budgets are decreasing.
3. Reductions in education spending must occur.
4. The people making the decisions on WHERE to reduce the budgets will NEVER cut their own.
5. Classroom teachers do not make budget decisions.

If you can understand these realities, then you should be able to understand why:

1. The teacher workforce is always being reduced.
2. The student population within a single classroom is always increasing.
3. The school system central office staff rarely or never is reduced – and in fact often grows.
4. School textbooks and supplies are a low (if not the lowest) priority.
5. The individual people in school systems that are promoted are NOT the most qualified (by far), they are the most connected.
6. Sports, especially in elementary and middle schools, do not make the “people in charge” look any better or help their career at all.

The bottom line for this blog is that if the parents in the community want their middle school to have sports, they can make it happen one way or another. But, the “education leaders” will not be helpful.

William Casey

April 26th, 2012
1:13 pm

As a retired long-time coach, I’ve come to believe that high school sports should be converted to a “club” system, associated with the school but not part of it. Far too many personnel decisions are made based on athletic “needs” rather than academics. Although many coaches are also fine teachers, far too many should never be near an academic classroom. And, don’t get me started on the “made-up” jobs in schools for coaches. Far too much administrative time and energy is spent on athletic issues and supervision. Lots of $100Kper year Assistant Principals standing aroundat football games doing security guard work.


April 26th, 2012
1:28 pm

go to passmustangs.com and register your child for fall football ages 6 – 12.


April 26th, 2012
1:30 pm

Hahaha, Jefferson!

Get rid of middle school sports, and consider cutting down on high school sports as well, IMHO.

Excellent observations, William Casey!

Hall Mom

April 26th, 2012
1:37 pm

Having the county rec department take over middle school sports probably does not change the middle school program that much. On the plus side, coaches will not be teachers who may or may not know what they are doing . One the minus side, it will be hard to require that the grades be kept up to play. Location stays the same, costs and fundraising stays the same. I would support this if it came to Hall county. Schools need to focus on academics. Yes, my children do play school sports. Would you like to buy a raffle ticket? Or maybe a coupon card?

APS teacher

April 26th, 2012
1:41 pm

Kill the middle school sports. Put money back into academics.

A Conservative Voice

April 26th, 2012
1:42 pm

OK, one more time (I know, I said that last time) now…….Our school budget shortfalls can be eliminated by doing just one thing…..THATS RIGHT, JUST ONE THING!!!!!!!!! “Eliminate the School System Transportation System” or require the one’s utilizing it to pay their fair share. It’s a very simple fix…….why isn’t anyone listening???????

As to middle school sports…….All those S. Georgia Football Coaches are licking their chops because they’re not gonna eliminate middle school football. This is their farm system. The Decatur School System under new Football Coach Brad Waggoner just resurrected the football program at Renfroe Middle School. You know Maureen, you’ve had blogs covering this before…….it just ain’t gonna happen in the majority of the school systems……FOOTBALL IS KING IN GEORGIA AND THE SOUTH…….Read this and remember this and quit recycling this controversial subject……it’s not going anywhere!!!!!!!!!


April 26th, 2012
1:44 pm

OH MY, We have the City of Roswell incarcerate a citizen for 99 days for CHICKEN $hit violations, leading to the death of this poor man, and all we have to think about is how our spoiled children can’t play football or basketball…. It’s NO wonder we are at the bottom of the list on education! Good Grief our priorities are messed up…..


April 26th, 2012
1:48 pm

One implication of our catastrophic real estate values is that schools and counties don’t have the tax money to support their operations. Rightly seen these shortfalls are the consequences of national policies that have not righted the ship as fast as they should have. Failure in Washington leads to less money in Clayton County schools.


April 26th, 2012
2:10 pm


Inman Park Boy

April 26th, 2012
2:44 pm

WHen middle schools were introduced in Cobb County (in 1971, when I was teaching there) the old junior highs were instructed to cease being involved in interscholastic sports under the theory that competitive sports were “bad” for middle school aged children. Parents didn’t buy it, and within 18 months a multitude of “junior” sports leagues (many sponsored by the Cobb Parks & Rec Department) sprung up and thousands of middle schoool kids were again playing sports. The only difference was that the activities were fee based and everyone got a trophy to downplay any problems that might be associated with not being very good. Anyway, sports for chidlren in this age group thrived and parents who wanted it paid for it. I don’t see why public schools cannot do this also. You want your kid to play on a school based football/basketball/soccer/baeball? Then pay a fee (which these days woudl probably be in the three to four hundred dollar range) and play! But don’t ask taxpayers to foot the bill for your kid to play a sport. That money is better used for instruction.


April 26th, 2012
2:55 pm

If you think the middle school athletic situation is a problem, what until they start to take the entire “your child didn’t pay for lunch” thing serious. This place is going to blow up!! LMBO!


April 26th, 2012
3:04 pm

In the Junior High days there weren’t interscholastic sports for 6th grade. 6th grade is where budget challenged districts should look first. Byeond that, baseball at middle school age is outside schools. Basketball and volleyball could easily be club/community/intramural leagues. Track could be a club sport. Football (at least tackle football) is the one that would be harder to do outside school with the liability issues and the larger team sizes.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

April 26th, 2012
3:07 pm

Replace interscholastic athletics with full-participation intramurals. Save money and increase academic focus simultaneously.


April 26th, 2012
3:18 pm

I played sports every day after school throughout middle school. It was called pickup games. Nobody paid a dime (except for the ball).


April 26th, 2012
3:25 pm

@Dr. Craig: excellent suggestion!


April 26th, 2012
3:44 pm

@Dr Craig….

Typical egghead response… There is NO correlation with gaining any academic advantage when you drop to intramural sports. Why not just hold these students accountable, and teach them Reading, writing, math, and Science…. It’s really that SIMPLE….

Beverly Fraud

April 26th, 2012
4:05 pm

I would trust a virgin at the Pink Pony for the first time to spend his money more wisely than Heatley spends the taxpayers’ funds.


April 26th, 2012
5:18 pm

@Hmmmm…Actually there is a strong correlation between physical activity and gaining an academic advantage. Physical activity is great for students and a decade of NCLB and budget cuts have resulted in fewer and fewer PE classes. Students, especially young students, need to MOVE.


April 26th, 2012
6:15 pm

I’m with getting rid of interscholastic sports and having only intramural sports in middle school and high school. Everyone who wants to play gets to play and it’s fee based. Fine with me if the fee is scaled based on ability to pay.. as long as everyone pays something so it doesn’t become free babysitting.

Of course, that will never happen.

Pardon My Blog

April 26th, 2012
7:43 pm

No need for Middle Schools to have “team” sports at all. I have seen it all from a varied sport background and most at that age are best suited at pursuing any sport(s) of interest at a club level and be able to compete during High School. May I remind you that Georgia is one of the few states that allows students to compete in both Club and High School sports at the same time. At that point the athlete is able to compete in a sport that they like and I do believe you will see fewer injuries.


April 26th, 2012
7:57 pm

Please get rid of school sports! I’m tired of being pressured to “give” grades so a student will be eligible to play.


April 26th, 2012
8:02 pm

Maybe I’m missing something here, but doesn’t this just shift the budgetary issue to another pot of taxpayer money? Taxes fund the county recreation facilities and programs. Presumably, if the school tax digest is down, then the general county taxes would be down, proportionally, as well. No?

Questions to ponder Clayton taxpayers before nodding in agreement:
-Who will be responsible for sports facilities located at middle schools? Who will pay to maintain them, staff them as needed, and provide needed equipment?
-What is the current budget for the parks and recreation department and can it handle taking on more programs and facilities?
-Will parents/guardians/students be required to pay to participate and how much will they have to pay?
-Will the programs remain on their current schedules or will the schedules be changed?
-How will the supposed savings be reallocated?

I could care less either way, but food for thought, food for thought.


April 26th, 2012
8:04 pm

As a middle school coach and teacher, I would argue that the single most effective academic and behavioral motivator many kids have in school is the school’s athletic teams. When done properly, many students who otherwise would run wild and fail their classes become manageable students who maintain passing grades. Rec leagues do not have that authority.

I’m OK with charging parents when their kids participate in sports. I’m OK with requiring school teams to be financially self-sufficient. But I think we really need to be increasing the extracurricular activities we offer our students through the schools, not decreasing them.

Dr. John Trotter

April 26th, 2012
8:09 pm

Let’s see, now. Hey Pam Adamson and Alieka Anderson: I believe that Glenn Brock brought you guys Edmond Heatley. How y’all liking him now? Ha! He was a failed superintendent in Chino Valley, California, and he’s been a complete failure in Clayton County. If anyone cared, they would run for office against you guys, but, sadly, I don’t think many people care one way or another right now. Too bad for the kids and the teachers but the Clayton County School System is a bad dream. But, that’s O. K. for you guys. Y’all can travel to San Francisco to the National School Board Association’s annual confab and get great enlightenment and inspiration. Ha!

Sam King. Sam King. Sam King. Ha!

Dr. John Trotter

April 26th, 2012
8:12 pm

By the way, doing away with middle schools sports is, in my opinion, complete idiocy. Do away with many of Edmond Heatley’s flunkies at the Central Office. I think starting at Human Resources would be a good start. I don’t think that there is any hope for the Edmond Heatley / Doug Hendrix team. Ha!

Nupe. Nupe. Nupe. You guys are giving a bad name to Nupe.

bootney farnsworth

April 27th, 2012
12:14 am

I’m not a big fan of HS sports – preferring the club approach – but can’t help but wonder just how much of a dent middle school sports would accually make?

seems to me like a way to play 3 card monte with the public

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

April 27th, 2012
6:13 am

So, there are these two cars (Finland and US). One car is wired a certain way, and it’s running great. The other car is wired differently and isn’t running. Obviously for the second car we should… change the seat color!

No, see how Finland is wired and wire the other one that way!

Now, in reality, there are other cars wired in other ways that are working too, but we need some examples here. (And a new paint job didn’t help either).

Old timer

April 27th, 2012
6:32 am

Mr. Trotter…right as usual. Also cut half the jobs at the county office…area superintendents…etc. cut salaries of people who make over a hundred thousand dollars…….

A Working Mother

April 27th, 2012
6:45 am

Before we dump middle school athletics because of budget cuts…what we could try FIRST is:
Ask parents to pay for it.
Ask the PTA to spend the money on it.
The size of the athletics provided will simply depend on who really wants it.
I watched this story on the television. Two parents were complaining how the school should not cut athletics for what I saw as valid reasons (it’s simply good for kids) but they didn’t offer any suggestions to pay for it. These parents either had an entitlement attitude or the reporter didn’t bother to ask the question.
Either way, the budget has to be cut. Athletics are an extra, not a necessity; so assuming that no bureaucratic overhead is available to be cut and this school system is running on bare bones; ask the parents and the PTA to pay for what they want and whatever doesn’t get paid for, gets tossed.
The economy is in the toilet. People don’t pay taxes because they don’t have jobs. We can’t pay for extras if we don’t have money for the basics. Parents like me need to either pony up the money or do teh right thing and spend time at the park with our kids getting some exercise.

A Working Mother

April 27th, 2012
6:48 am

To Warrior Woman, YOu said “Most school districts in Georgia already shift the costs to families for sports and other extracurriculars, such as band.”
Except football. Football is a religion in GA and it goes to the top of the money pool, unfortunately.

Dr. John Trotter

April 27th, 2012
7:58 am

@ Science Teacher: Just how badly is the Clayton County Board of Education wired? It actually chose Edmond Heatley over Dr. Sam King, this year’s Superintendent of the Year in Georgia. Ha! Yes, Glenn Brock, the “Search Committee” himself, actually brought his “find” to the school board, viz., Edmond Heatley. What a “find”! Thanks, Glenn! You really “found” a keeper! And to think that the Clayton County School Board actually paid you money to “find” Edmond Heatley! This entire “search committee” set-up, in my opinion, is a joke. A complete farce. Edmond Heatley has been the worst superintendent that Clayton County has ever seen. Do you want me to rattle off the last 10 or 15? He’s been the absolute worst. Bar none.

Thanks, Pam Adamson, Alieka Anderson, and Glenn Brock for Edmond Heatley. Not! Ha! You guys have demonstrated your ineptness by selecting Edmond Heatley. Virtually every employee in the Clayton County School System realizes how terrible a choice he is, but guys sit blithely at the meetings, apparently taken in by his rambling rhetoric.

Enjoy your trips to the National School Board Conferences! What good are these conferences when defiant and disruptive students have free reign in the Clayton County Schools? Hey, try to figure out this “rubric.”

Sam King. Sam King. Sam King. Sam King. Sam King.