Franchise columnist and co-host John E. Hoover is now also a Featured Columnist for VYPE High School Sports Magazine. Read his newest columns every month when VYPE hits the newsstands.
The school district that produced Kenny Monday, Wayman Tisdale, Tony Casillas and so many more athletic icons has hit hard times.
Tulsa Public Schools recently announced plans — within a larger budget reduction of $12.4 million in fiscal year 2017-18 — to make painful cuts to its proud athletic department.
An ongoing financial crisis at the state level continues to impact public schools throughout Oklahoma. TPS is no different. But that doesn’t make it easy to accept.
A special session of the school board on April 6 opened some new wounds, left many in tears and even invoked a radical idea.
“We should cut football to get the attention of our residents who continuously vote for lower taxes and fail to support teachers in schools,” said Dr. John Marlow, a former East Central student and now a counselor at Street School. “The problem is not the legislators. The problem is that the people whom the school districts serve don’t understand now many resources go into serving their students, their families and their communities.
“There is a sacred cow in this state called football, and it must be challenged.”
The day after the emotional meeting, TPS athletic director Gil Cloud revealed his plan to manage the funding shortfall, a difficult road map that he believes must be followed.
Cloud said he would meet with his staff and hammer out more details in the coming weeks, but he initially proposed that the wrestling program at Booker T. Washington — the same program that helped spring Kenny Monday to four state championships, a national title at OSU, an Olympic gold medal and a silver — be cut.
Also, under Cloud’s early draft, East Central, Hale, McLain, Memorial, Rogers and Webster would lose boys and girls golf, while Hale, McLain, Rogers and Webster would cut boys and girls tennis. Hale also would lose baseball, and Rogers and Webster both could drop baseball and softball.
The $173,000 in cutbacks are being proposed just a year after Cloud’s budget was reduced to $1.7 million, a year after varsity swimming programs were cut at Central, East Central, Edison, Hale, McLain, Rogers and Webster.
Instead of one middle school team at each school in football, volleyball, basketball and soccer, athletes from two schools will be combined into one team. According to Cloud’s plan, Carver and Monroe will be combined, as will Memorial and Rogers, East Central and Hale, Clinton and Edison, and Central and McLain.
“It’s tough,” Cloud said. “Nobody wants this.”
At the board meeting, Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum, former mayor Susan Savage and former lawmaker Jeannie McDaniel spoke out on the ills of more public school cutbacks.
And Tulsa Public Schools isn’t the only metro district under duress. Challenges also exist at Oklahoma City Public Schools, where the 2016-17 budget was slashed by $30 million.
Of course it has affected us,” said Edith Vickers, Site Athletic Coordinator at OKC’s John Marshall High School. “This year, a lot of our sports, we didn’t order equipment. Football has been taken care of, helmets and all that stuff, but a lot of other sports, we’ve done without new uniforms. We don’t know if we’re going to get all of our budget to order uniforms for next year.”
Vickers said the TPS problem of consolidating schools and co-opting athletic programs between schools “would be extreme” and hasn’t hit OKCPS’s budget yet, but added that the state’s largest district already has combined athletes from different schools in certain low-participation sports.
“Last year it was really difficult because we had to cut sports, and we cut multiple sports,” she said.
It may seem self-serving to complain about driving to another school to play sports when heinous alternatives, such as $1.9 million in mandatory teacher furloughs or a $2.4 million reduction in textbook allocations, are forcing Tulsa’s best teachers to pursue work outside the district. TPS surveyed its constituents — more than 18,000 teachers, administrators, volunteers, parents, residents and students responded — and the results presented by the district strongly support a reduction in athletics.
That doesn’t make it any easier.
Chris Van Denhende, a Rogers grad and current president of the Rogers Booster Club, said consolidation “will destroy athletics. Athletics builds an esprit de corps within the school. It builds spirit. And if kids are going to different schools, you might as well just get rid of it and send kids to participate on AAU and club teams. I think that would be a huge, huge mistake.”
“Don’t get rid of athletics for high schoolers, or consolidate them,” said Caroline Whitney, a freshman on the Booker T. Washington volleyball team. “That ruins school spirit. Athletics is an outlet for students to get scholarships for college and to just look forward to do something at the end of the day.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.