Middle school students in the Eagle Point School District will be back on the field and in the gym this fall, after budget cuts had reduced the sports program to a small intramural operation last year.

Middle school students in the Eagle Point School District will be back on the field and in the gym this fall, after budget cuts had reduced the sports program to a small intramural operation last year.

The administration announced during a school board meeting last week that they would budget $46,000 to cover the costs of supplies, officials and transportation, provided volunteer coaches step up to run each program.

"I think it's a really great step for Eagle Point considering what's been happening with the strike," said Ed Talmadge, who said he will volunteer as a middle school football coach next year. "It's a positive thing for the community."

Talmadge, who coached seventh-grade football last year for Pop Warner, said almost 70 seventh- and eighth-grade boys played on Eagle Point's Pop Warner teams last year.

The teams were created only as a response to the cancellation of middle school sports, and will disband now that the school program is being reinstated.

"Pop Warner is dropping the seventh and eighth program, because they don't want to be a competition for the schools," said Talmadge, who sits on the Pop Warner board.

The reduction in the district's sports program was announced in the spring of 2011, when many local school districts said they would also cut middle school sports, a response to an expected $3 billion revenue shortfall statewide.

Ashland, Medford and Central Point school districts originally agreed to cut middle school sports along with Eagle Point. But by last summer, Medford and Ashland had formalized plans to keep the programs running.

Central Point disbanded sports last fall, but was able to start operations again by winter, offering boys and girls basketball and track, with Principal David Heard acting as athletic director.

This year, all sports will return at Central Point, only with limited coaching stipends and some volunteer positions. Junior varsity sports will be offered if enough students show interest.

Eagle Point maintained its cuts for all of the 2011-12 school year, operating only an intramural program for some sports, with games played among the district's two middle schools and Shady Cove, a fourth- through eighth-grade school.

"I'd rather play all over," said Charles Little, an incoming eighth-grader who played intramural sports last year. "That way there's more of a competition."

Little worked out with other incoming middle school and freshman football players Wednesday at the high school weight room.

While the intramural program didn't allow students to compete outside the district, it accepted sixth-graders, which the Southern Oregon Middle School Athletic Conference doesn't. The district also added soccer as an intramural, which wasn't offered previously.

"Our intramurals were very popular," said Joni Parsons, Eagle Point Middle School principal.

Parsons said students will be excited to see the regular sports program back.

"It really builds a sense of spirit and community in the school," said Parsons. "The whole intent of middle school sports is to participate and learn some skills."

The middle school will offer football and volleyball in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter and track in the spring.

Parsons said the district has already had community members step forward to become coaches, with each being mentored by head coaches at the high school.

Before last year, when the district also paid for coaches at the middle school level, the program cost more than $170,000 annually.

Middle school students interested in getting involved with the football program are invited to participate in summer workouts with the Eagle Point High School team, which meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at the high school weight room.

Interested Students can contact Talmadge through the "Eagle Point Middle School 8th Grade Football" Facebook page.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.