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Ashland Middle School sports get a boost

The Ashland School Board Monday voted to re-establish funding for after-school sports programs at Ashland Middle School for the next academic year.

The unanimous decision came after the board had initially decided to eliminate funding from the programs in April while it was developing a budget.

Under the impression that other school districts around the Rogue Valley were discussing doing the same in their middle schools, the board made the cuts, but a combination of community outcry and nearby school districts deciding to go ahead and fund their middle school sports programs led the board to reverse itself.

"It's been a great community effort," said Steve Marsden, 59, of Ashland. "The premise they were operating on for making the cuts was false; once the board and the superintendent realized that, they stepped right up."

When the cuts first were announced by the district, Marsden, along with a few other community members, started the AMS Booster Club, which was first aimed at raising enough money and volunteers to independently run at least some sports at the middle school next academic year.

"I couldn't believe they took the money away," said Marsden, who also is an assistant basketball coach at Ashland High School. " I didn't think the program should die because I knew how important it was to the kids."

The School Board allocated $60,000 from the district's $500,000 contingency fund to support the after-school sports programs at AMS for the next academic year. It will include volleyball, boy's and girl's basketball, cross country, track and field, and wrestling. The football program is being turned over to the national youth sports organization Pop Warner, which received a grant from the city of Ashland that will enable students to play without paying.

In the initial proposal for the reinstatement of funding, AMS Principal Steve Rezlaff outlined a financial plan to the board that he said would allow continuation of next year's sports programs as long as the school district could come up with an estimated $35,000 and cover travel expenses. Additionally, the AMS Booster Club agreed to raise and contribute $20,000 toward funding the sports programs.

Adding $5,000 for travel expenses and an additional $20,000 because the booster club didn't foresee hitting that mark before the beginning of the school year, the board dipped into the district's contingency fund, which is set aside annually for unforeseen expenses.

The AMS Booster Club, which has raised $4,060 so far, has agreed to pay back $20,000 to the school district by the end of the next academic year.

Last year, the school district committed $100,000 to fund sports at the middle school. By reducing the number of yearly stipends paid out to coaches from 24 to 12, and relying on volunteers to fulfill the assistant coaching positions, the district was able to trim the cost.

The AMS sports teams will join 10 other middle schools from around the region in the Southern Oregon Middle School Athletics Conference, which will begin its first season at the start of the next academic year.

Ashland School District Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said she doesn't foresee that funding for AMS after-school sports will be in jeopardy during budget time next year.

"We made the decision based off an assumption that sports were going to be cut at middle schools regionally," she said. "The context changed, so our decision did too."

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.