Saturday, April 14, 2007

Is the tail wagging the dog

I will say this for National Public Radio: my quibble with the tax funded portion of their budget aside, they do come up with serendipitous odd information that tickles a truck driver's mind. Just last week I heard an interview on the origins of the Texas University Interscholastic League, now most commonly known as UIL, and associated with high school sports competition.

Long forgotten by most folks, including me, the UIL was formed in 1909 by a group of high school debate coaches who wanted to formalize interdistrict debate competition and grant recognition and trophies to better teams. It wasn't until 1913 that some high school football coaches woke up to what the eggheads were up to and thought, “Hey, we need to get on board this train”. Looking at the public attendance at debate matches vs football games, it was then utterly predictable that sports rapidly became the tail that now wags the UIL dog.

Bear with me, there is relevance to the local school bond election. This week I requested from the SAISD-Huckabee website a breakdown of the project costs for the proposed new Central High, particularly how much of the $100 million was dedicated to athletics. The response, is illuminating as to the mindset. For openers, “our intent is to build a fully equipped 5A high school.” Folks, 5A is a UIL designation having exactly nothing to do with academic proficiency, graduation or drop-out rates or anything except the level of athletic competition.

As I have mentioned on this Blog and at the March 3 Board meeting, one concern I have with the entire planning process behind this bond issue is the extent to which options were limited in pursuit of a desire to assure San Angelo keeps a sole 5A football team. Now anyone who knows me can tell you, I am a football freak. In season, I can usually give you current spread and over/under off the top of my head for any NFL game on the board. My biggest beef with the cable/KLST showdown last year was that I missed the college hoops “March Madness” for the first time in years. I love sports, support them to the level my budget allows. What I do not do is ask the public to subsidize my hobby.

The response I got from the bond website indicates that a substantial, but undefined, part of the money we are being asked to pony up is going for non-academic use. Towards the end I was told, “It is very difficult to remove the cost of athletic facilities because they are not solely used for athletics.” Come on, guys, are you asking us to believe the Trig class meets on the softball field on sunny days? As reported in the Standard-Times Feb 28 under the headline “Proposal appeals to the athletes” the new Central includes; a jv field, a softball and baseball field, two practice infields, three practice fields for football and soccer, a 10 court tennis facility, an outdoor fieldhouse, a gymnastics building, and a swimming pool. I don't think the average reasonable viewer (also called “voter”) has much difficulty designating the aformentioned facilities as “athletic”.

To what extent were the options considered on this bond limited by “our intent to build a fully equipped 5A high school”? I have heard discussion over the last decade since our last bond of: making our two high schools more equal in capacity and shifting attendance zones (Heaven forfend, Central and Lakeview would have to play each other); or building a smaller third high school in southwest Angelo and evening out attendance zones to come up with three 4A schools. Maybe good, maybe not, might have been cheaper, we'll never know because these ideas were never on the table due our dedication to build a fully equipped 5A high school. We deserve to know to at how much expense is the athletic tail wagging our school bond dog.

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