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Middle Schools Scramble to Pay for Sports Programs After Funding Cuts

By Julie Shapiro | October 19, 2011 11:06am

LOWER MANHATTAN — Middle schools across Manhattan are scrambling to find money for their after-school sports programs this fall, after the city unexpectedly cut the funding that paid coaches' salaries.

Kelly McGuire, principal of the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School at 26 Broadway, was counting on receiving $6,000 from the city this fall for soccer, flag football and volleyball coaches, just as he has in past years.

But a couple weeks ago, after the school year had already begun, McGuire found out that the city would pay just $2,000, covering one coach's salary, and the school would have to cover the remaining $4,000 on its own.

"We have a huge amount of money we are going to have to come up with to run these sports," McGuire said of the funding gap.  

"Due to the timing of all this, it puts us in a bad spot. I might have made different decisions if I had known the money was not coming through."

To avoid cutting any sports, McGuire is taking money that was supposed to fund after-school activities next spring and is spending it now. He hopes his PTA will be able to fundraise to help make up the difference, especially if the school's coaching budget is also cut for the winter and the spring.

The city funds middle school sports through the CHAMPS Middle School Sports and Fitness League, which relies on money from the City Council and grants from groups including the New York Road Runners, the New York Jets and the Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation.

CHAMPS started as a pilot program in just 50 middle schools in 2003, but it grew quickly and now supports after-school sports in more than 200 middle schools across the city by paying up to three coaches $2,000 apiece, per season.

But this year, budget cuts combined with ballooning demand forced CHAMPS to limit funding to just one coach per middle school this fall, the Department of Education told McGuire.

DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg did not immediately provide budget figures for CHAMPS, but she said the program tried to make the funding distribution as fair as possible.

"This school year, CHAMPS has received many requests from schools to participate in the program and to be most equitable, it offered a sport to each of these schools," Feinberg said in a statement.

"This is a successful program and CHAMPS wants to help ensure that as many students in as many schools as possible have the opportunity to participate."

John De Matteo, athletic director at the Manhattan Academy of Technology on Catherine Street, said he has already heard from schools that will have to discontinue some of their fall sports this year because they can't come up with the money to pay for coaches.

"A lot of schools that planned on having a soccer team, a football team and a fitness club now can only have one funded through CHAMPS," said De Matteo, who also coordinates middle school sports leagues for the city. 

"It's really going to affect the schools that are not able to fundraise for athletics."

At MAT, De Matteo plans to continue offering an array of 18 sports this fall, even though he lost CHAMPS funding for two of his coaches. De Matteo said he is accustomed to fundraising to support his robust athletic offerings, and he credited his school's parents and Principal Jacqui Getz for supporting after-school sports.

McGuire said he, too, is determined to keep all of Lower Manhattan Community Middle School's sports in place, because nearly one-third of his students are on a fall sports team, including many of the most at-risk students.

"You've got a huge number of kids interested in these activities and you don't want to let them down," McGuire said.

"These are kids who need structured activities after school. I'm scared about what else they might be doing if they're not participating in sports."

Lauren Matyola, a Lower Manhattan Community Middle School teacher who has coached soccer, flag football and basketball, said sports engage students who may have attention or anger issues, and they become more focused on their schoolwork when they realize they need to get it done in order to play.

"You can see how important it is to them — not just to have something to do, but to be part of a team," Matyola said.

"We're working to develop character and work ethic and set them up for success… It's disheartening that sports are the first places to be cut."