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Youth sports may be in community hands

Prep Notebook

If you're a parent and your kids play sports in the Medford School District, then you're likely troubled by the state of affairs linked to the defeat of Measure 28 last week.

District athletic director Bruce Howell says that not only are the sophomore basketball teams at North Medford and South Medford high schools inevitably headed for the chopping block, but that athletes at both high schools and middle schools can expect to pay to play sports next fall.

Barring a few thousand gold bars that someone finds in a closet at the state capital over the next few weeks, or the passage of a sales tax, there simply won't be enough funding in the state budget to remain status quo.

As someone who has been around athletics virtually my entire life, I know their value.

I have seen them motivate marginal students to keep their grades up to stay eligible. I have seen them turn shy, insecure lads into confident young adults. I have seen them give a kid a surrogate father or mother ' their coach ' and watched as they blossomed into contributing members of society.

And so when word comes that some school teams are getting axed and others will require parents to pony up &

36;50 or &

36;100 for their child to put on a uniform, it's disturbing.

And yet, the future of Medford school sports isn't necessarily all gloom and doom.

What has happened elsewhere, and to some extent has already happened here, is that the community steps up to the plate.

When I talked to Corvallis High School athletic director Bob Holt over the weekend to get a feel of what's happening in the northern part of the state, he tried not to laugh when I told him that Medford was going to a pay-to-play system.

He explained that Corvallis has been charging its athletes ever since Ballot Measure 5 ' the property tax limit initiative that shifted school support from the local to the state level ' passed in the early 1990s.

Holt's school district not only doesn't fund sophomore teams, it doesn't even fund middle school athletics.

Other than Salem, not many schools up here do, he noted. It's been a way of life for us for a long time.

In their place are club sports.

Soccer. Wrestling. AAU basketball. Pop Warner football. Babe Ruth baseball.

YMCA everything.

All of those organizations exist here but take a step back when school sports are in session.

Now they'll have to take a step forward and pick up the slack.

If you want to take a good, hard look at a model youth program, you don't have to search any further than the Rogue Valley Soccer Club.

The non-profit group puts nearly 2,000 kids in uniform each year at three different ability levels and at a reasonable cost.

Take a drive on a Saturday morning during the fall and spring months and you can't help but see youth soccer teams sprinkled across the valley.

I believe that a lot of people who voted against Measure 28 have nothing against youth sports and, in fact, would be willing to give both time and money if asked.

Let's not forget that more than 9,000 people crowded into Spiegelberg Stadium last November to watch North Medford and South Medford play for the Southern Oregon Conference football championship.

If you told each of those fans that football would vanish the following season without a &

36;50 donation, you might have walked out that night with tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket.

Holt, the Corvallis AD, is in the process of raising &

36;56,000 for a new scoreboard at the city's swimming pool, which both Corvallis high schools use. Last week, two different business owners wrote him checks for &

36;13,000.

I used to feel guilty asking people for &

36;20, he says, but there are certain people out there who really want to help.

Corvallis High coaches also do a lot of fund raising to run their programs. Spartan baseball coach Eric Dazey raised &

36;30,000 last year through various projects, including an orange sale that raised &

36;4,000.

The kids went out and pre-sold orders for &

36;15 a box, Holt says. And then one Saturday, a big semi truck (full of oranges) showed up, and everyone went to work.

Not that fund raising hasn't been occurring in the Rogue Valley.

Eagle Point Youth Baseball, for example, raised more than &

36;1.5 million through weekly bingo games to build The Yard, the beautiful stadium at the high school that is among the best in the state.

Not one cent of taxpayer's money went into that stadium, Eagle Point High baseball coach Tom Britton says.

I've been fund raising for 27 years. I take it as part of my job.

Axing sports for kids is never reason to celebrate. But if the community is willing to fill the void, those opportunities may not be lost after all.

And while the average citizen may be unwilling to pay an extra &

36;100 in taxes, he or she might be eager to write out a check for &

36;100 to a youth club.

They would know precisely where their money went.

KYLE SINGLER exploded for 30 points to lead a South Medford eighth-grade AAU team to an 82-75 victory over a Portland all-star team Sunday in Salem.

The Portland squad ' Pro-Am ' had handed South its lone defeat two weeks earlier at a tournament in Central Point.

Garrett Fiddler and Craig Faure played strong in the post while Michael Harthun and James Jordan provided steady play in the backcourt as South Medford won the tournament and ran its season record to 16-1.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail