Declining enrollment creates concern for school sports teams, two class sizes
Several community members showed up to support the high school golf team at last Thursday’s Wahkiakum School District Board of Director’s meeting after hearing that the school sponsored sport was up for review.
This year the Mules baseball team would have had to cancel their season if the school had been unable to get league permission to allow eighth grade boys to turn out for the team. With enrollment on the decline and fewer students showing interest in athletics, the school board has to consider an unpopular decision.
“Coaches in general are concerned that we are spreading ourselves too thin if we continue to add programs as enrollment declines,” Superintendent Bob Garrett said. “Can we continue to sustain what we have? The reason that golf appears on the potential chopping block, if you will, is that golf was the last sport added and it’s also the program with the fewest participants.”
According to Garrett, fewer kids are turning out for sports, and not just at the Wahkiakum school district.
“We’ve seen a remarkable change in the number of kids who want to be athletes,” he said.
Nick Vavoudis, a volunteer coach for the golf team spoke in defense of the sport.
“You don’t have to be athletic to play golf,” Vavoudis said. “Kids can advance at their own rate and still feel camaraderie and the feeling of team accomplishment. We have been recognized by other districts as the team to beat. We’ve won eight league titles in a row. We’re 282-6 in eight years in the intra-team match ups. We’re the only school in 2B history to send six kids to state.”
“We encourage everyone of our players to play two sports,” Coach Bill Olsen said. “Two wanted to play baseball, but rejected it because they had to pay twice to play.”
One parent spoke of his son’s experience.
“My son, Elliott, is on the golf team,” he said. “He home schools. This is his sport. It would be devastating for him to lose it. This year, for the first time, we enrolled him because of the golf program. It’s been a phenomenal experience for Elliott. To lose golf takes away that incentive to enroll him in the school.”
“In my way of thinking we are punishing those kids that choose to play golf,” Kay Cochran said. “Football, baseball, basketball are not for them. Give them a chance to excel in something that they can do.”
"It’s about numbers,” Garrett said. “Someone could say why don’t we do away with track or why don’t we do away with baseball? Someone could say if you don’t have enough boys to have a high school baseball program get rid of baseball. Nobody has suggested that but there would be a bit of rationale behind it that you could argue, in my opinion.
"I don’t want be quoted as that I’m saying get rid of baseball. But these are the kind of discussions we have to have and we have to think out of the box. These kinds of discussions bring up other ideas and that’s why we like to have the dialogue before we make decisions.”
“I think it would be good to have minimum numbers needed,” Principal Theresa Libby said. “Maybe that’s another thing that the coaches association needs to look at, minimum numbers to field a team. And how do we feel as a school and association with adding eight graders to the baseball team, you are taking them away from their only option in middle school, which is track, so our eighth grade track team was down to nothing. I think it would be a good conversation to have.”
The school board is not prepared to make a decision at this time.
Garrett reported on the success of the recent mass band event at the high school.
“It was incredible,” he said. “Kids were well behaved. The night performance was phenomenal. Listening to 230 kids play at one time, we don’t get that sound in small schools. It’s just a great activity. I’ve gotten emails from a couple of band directors thanking Wahkiakum for hosting. One of them said it was the most well organized mass band in which he’s been involved in for seven years. Hats off to Darla (Mead) and her crew, they did a great job.”
The school has requested a waiver for the 180 day school year four times in the last 12 years, and for the first time they were rejected in a vote that went 5-5 by the State Board of Education.
Surprised by the decision, Garrett has requested a written explanation and a copy of an application that was approved. They will resubmit their request for approval in July.
Kindergarten registration numbers have administration in limbo. Until they receive the final numbers, they will be unable to make decisions about hiring and class size for kindergarten through fifth grade.
“It just seems like the important thing that we do here is educate our children,” parent Lacey Woodside said. “If that requires another teacher, that is a lot more important to me and the kids here personally than an extra lawn mower if the lawn mower breaks down. Our primary goal is to educate our kids. A teacher can’t be effective with 32 kids. It’s sad for the kids.”
The board approved Bob McClintock’s resignation. McClintock was the head of maintenance.
The next board meeting is scheduled for June 17.