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Public Hearings Offer Platform

Fairfax County athletic community voices displeasure with proposed cuts.

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Rob Muzzio, a former Olympic decathlete and current Robinson parent, argued against cutting indoor track and field at the first public hearing for the 2009-10 budget.

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Lake Braddock cross-country and track and field coach Mike Mangan voiced his support for indoor track and field at a public budget hearing last week.

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Janelyn Price, a Lake Braddock parent and former collegiate gymnast, talked about the importance of keeping high school gymnastics at a public budget hearing last week.

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Chantilly cross-country and track and field coach Matt Gilchrist voiced support for his sport during a public budget hearing last Wednesday night at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

In both gymnastics and track and field, three minutes can represent a variety of things. On the uneven bars, three minutes could cause excruciating pain in even the most accomplished gymnast’s arms, and those 180 seconds would surely turn every head in America if displayed next to the 1,600-meter run.

But last Wednesday night at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, three minutes represented something completely new for the two embattled sports in Fairfax County: a platform.

With supporters of both sports finally given a chance to voice their opinions over the proposed elimination of gymnastics and indoor track and field from the fiscal year 2009-10 budget, five people spoke in favor of keeping gymnastics and indoor track and field, with one supporting the former and four lobbying for the latter.

Another set of hearings was set for Tuesday night, which were canceled that morning because of a snowstorm. The second round of hearings, during which many more gymnastics and indoor track and field supporters were expected to voice their displeasure with the budget, will occur Wednesday night at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

“The elimination of indoor track and field would be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said McLean High School parent William Shapiro, whose three children graduated from the school. “If savings must be found, surely there are better ways of doing so. Wouldn’t it make sense for modest reductions in all team sports?”

<b>A BUDGET PROPOSAL</b> comprised of three scenarios was unveiled at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting back in November, with gymnastics listed on all three levels and indoor track and field only on the most severe.

The budget alterations were brought forth to close what was expected to be around a $170 million-$180 million shortfall for the school district. Cutting gymnastics would save $221,000 and cutting indoor track and field would save $250,000.

But the expected deficit has since ballooned to around $215 million, depending on whether or not the Board of Supervisors accepts schools superintendent Jack D. Dale’s latest budget, which requires a 3.5 percent funding increase.

“It is entirely dependent on what the Board of Supervisors gives us,” Dale said. “If there is no additional money, we will face a $215 million shortfall.”

School Board member Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence) started the hearing Wednesday night by re-affirming that none of the decisions were final. Dale recommended his $2.2 million budget on Jan. 8, and the School Board would listen to these public hearings, formulate its own budget and submit that to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

<b>THAT DIDN’T HELP</b> quell the fears of parents and coaches who spoke out against the proposed measures. Matt Gilchrist, Chantilly’s cross-country and track and field coach, kicked off the community’s reaction by acknowledging the difficult task ahead. But, he continued to express a desire that no sport be eliminated.

“It is our hope as athletic supporters that no sports are cut, and that if economic needs dictate that athletics be affected, such cuts would include small, incremental cuts across the board, rather than targeting individual programs,” Gilchrist said.

Janelyn Price, a Lake Braddock parent and a former collegiate gymnast and coach, was the gymnastics community’s lone representative Wednesday. Price argued that Lake Braddock conducted tryouts for the first time in a long time this season, while also pointing out that club gymnastics might not be a viable option.

“Many gymnasts were never club gymnasts to begin with and would not even make a club team,” Price said. “Club gymnastics is also a very time consuming sport and is very, very expensive.”

Wearing his jacket from the 1992 Barcelona Games, former Olympic decathlete Rob Muzzio, a Robinson and George Mason University graduate and now a Robinson parent, stated that indoor track and field involved nearly 2,800 high school athletes last season at a relatively low cost.

“In these times of budget crisis, I understand that everyone must sacrifice. All programs should be under scrutiny and subject to reductions across the board. But to eliminate the most cost-effective athletic program in all of Fairfax County doesn’t make sense.”