Push on to keep CMS middle school sports alive

By Ann Doss Helms
The Charlotte Observer
March 19, 2011

A sports publisher and a school board member are trying to raise enough private money to keep middle school sports alive in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Superintendent Peter Gorman’s 2011-12 budget plan calls for eliminating middle school sports, which are currently paid for with a combination of donations and student fees for middle school and high school sports. By eliminating athletics in middle school, the plan allows the high school fees to reduce the tax money spent on high school.

Tripp Roakes, publisher of the South Charlotte Sports Report, and Rhonda Lennon, who represents northern Mecklenburg County on the school board, are trying to raise enough donations to keep sports in place. Students who can afford it would pay to play, Roakes said, but corporate support would ensure that those who can’t pay aren’t denied participation.

CMS middle school students who don’t qualify for lunch subsidies now pay $50 for each sport in which they participate. (High school fees are $100 per sport.) Roakes says that’s too low, with private sports clubs and surrounding counties charging closer to $200.

The first public forum is planned in south Charlotte on March 29, with a follow-up in the north suburbs early in April.

“There’s a lot of good private money in Charlotte,” Roakes said. “Creating awareness right now, that’s the biggest thing. Once (middle school sports) leave us, it will never come back.”

Roakes launched a website, www. savemiddleschoolsports. com , last week. He says it got 4,800 hits in the first 24 hours.

Lennon says she supports Gorman’s budget plan and wants to help Roakes take his effort countywide so middle schoolers can keep playing sports without money from CMS.

Roakes, who has a son in second grade and played middle school sports himself, says the key is establishing the kind of corporate support that eliminates an annual scramble for money: “If we’ve got to go through it year after year, it’s agonizing.”

Details of a new approach for CMS remain to be worked out. Roakes and Lennon hope to see students and parents turn out for their meetings. The first is at 7 p.m. March 29 at Christ Lutheran Church, 4519 Providence Road.

“Every parent is going to have to become engaged in this,” Roakes said.

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