Parents object to, school district defends changes to MS sports

At the end of budget season, the Bristol Board of Education had to make some serious decisions on how to move forward with the $102.7 million allotment it got from the city for this fiscal year. In addition to originally eliminating 22 teaching positions, which most have been restored or those teachers were able to find positions elsewhere, the middle school sports program was turned into an intramural program to help cut costs.
Many parents of middle school athletes have been discouraged by this move and have been vocal to the board about it. They have said they were concerned with competition levels and the athletes who want to continue to high school sports may not get the training they need to advance after middle school.
Rich Plantamuro, who has been an advocate for sports at the middle school level, called intramurals another form of babysitting. He said he was worried that it would end up being the kind of thing where parents drop their kids off, while they go do other things.
“The passion in sports in Bristol is unbelievable,” Plantamuro said, “intramurals is just going to water that down.”
Ellen Benham, the district’s athletic director, gave a presentation at last week’s board meeting, to explain the intramural program.
There will be five sessions per school year, with four activities each session, that will be four weeks long, meet two to three times each week, for two hours. Benham said the first hour will be devoted to instruction on that particular sport, and then the second hour will be for game play. At the end of each session, there will be a district-wide jamboree where activities will be rotated among four school sites. Some of the sports offered will be soccer, flag football, volleyball, cross country, weight training, wrestling, basketball, baseball, softball, track and field and ultimate Frisbee. Benham said students will be given the opportunity to provide input on what sports they want to play, so more sports could potentially be added based on popularity.
“We’re trying to open up all avenues for all children,” Benham said.
As far as coaches go, Benham said they will receive a stipend for participation, and many existing coaches at the middle school level have already said they would continue to coach intramurals. She said coaches will referee during weekly sessions, and she said she would like to find high school students interested in refereeing during the jamborees. There will be teams for each sport, which will compete against each other during the session, and then against the other schools for the jamborees.
When the motion was passed a few months ago, Commissioner Karen Vibert said the change to intramurals was a “win-win” for everyone, because the district can save some money, and students can still play sports. She said now intramurals will allow for even more students to get involved.