This school year, junior high teachers in District 308 accepted decreased coaching stipends to continue the sports programs at the junior high level. They took these steps in response to District 308 choosing between cutting stipends or converting all competitive junior high sports into intramural teams.
Andew Gothelf, an Oswego Education Association representative and Oswego High School history teacher, shared that a committee made up of teachers and administrators meets every year to review such issues. He went on to explain that the stipend decrease would have an impact on the depth of the seasons.
“They agreed for this year to change the pay structure and define the meeting hours and length of the season,” Gothelf said.
Many teachers recognized the importance of providing students with the opportunity to play sports from a young age.
“I think it definitely leads to things that you have to deal with in life. You know, you struggle with people you have to work with, you struggle with a team,” John Carlson, head coach of the OHS girls varsity basketball team, said.
Traughber Junior High School basketball coach Daniel Hallahan highlighted the academic benefits of students participating in sports as well.
“You have a certain group of students that just want to compete. Basketball gives them that outlet,” Hallahan said. “Then you have the kids that love the sport but aren’t so academically motivated, so basketball acts as a great motivation because of eligibility.”
Although the compromise was made between the administration and teachers, the junior high athletic seasons will be significantly shorter than in previous years. Carlson recognized the long-term impacts that an adjustment like this would have.
“By reducing their amount of games that they play, I think that will eventually have a little bit of an effect on the number of kids that we get out,” Carlson said.
While District 308 is undergoing budget cuts, Hallahan expressed confusion over how junior high sports were on the chopping block, but the high school level appeared to be secure.
“How can you tell a group of teachers at the middle school level that you are losing your stipends, but all of those high school coaches are going to keep theirs? The unions are supposed to support all the teachers, not just the one level,” Hallahan said.
The same reaction was shared by coaches at the high school level.
“I was surprised initially that they only said junior high sports, because it wouldn’t have surprised me if they had cut back a little bit at the high school,” Carlson said.
On the other hand, if junior high sports were to be converted into intramurals, a definite impact would be felt at the high school level. Without the years of practice and growth, high school sports would be hard pressed to compete at the same level as their competitors.
Hallahan attributes the poor financial situation of the school district to the mistakes of the past.
“I think we are paying the price for some bad management by our district three, four, five years ago,” Hallahan said.
However, the OEA is hopeful that next year could bring more positive news as they reevaluate the issue.
“We don’t know what next year will hold,” Gothelf said.
Currently, junior high sports will continue with a limited schedule.