For the past 10 years Ralph Collins has been on a crusade for kids.
He has sought to preserve the Central Valley School District’s current classroom configuration - kindergarten through sixth grade in elementary schools, seventh through ninth grade in junior highs, and sophomores, juniors and seniors in high schools - in order to provide more sports opportunities for more kids for as long as possible.
“You don’t make a change without a solution and you don’t change without the facilities,” said Collins. “It is a good system with no added cost and no added grief, which gives kids another year to mature.”
Although ninth-graders remain in the district’s five junior highs, in 1990 a citizen’s committee recommended that they be allowed to participate in sports at the high school level.
Over the past six years that has happened in 10 of 18 sports. Earlier this month a committee met again to determine how the remaining eight sports could be included.
Since the beginning, Collins has argued that having freshmen play at the high school level denies athletic opportunities to the majority of ninth graders. And he has not wavered from that belief in the decade since he became part of a committee that defined CV’s uniform activities policy.
“If we get kids so they are not thrown out like a bunch of trash,” said Collins, “they win.”
In 1986, he said, a group of parents were told by a high school soccer coach that if a player did well on junior varsity he would get to play a varsity match. It didn’t happen and there was nothing in writing.
His concern led to formation of the committee which defined a district athletic policy in writing.
Then came the 1990 citizen’s committee which recommended that ninth-graders play at the high schools. Collins was a dissenting member.
For two years he wrote letters to then-WIAA executive director Cliff Gillies and state legislator George Orr, among others, expressing concerns about students’ rights to participate in sports.
He spoke at meetings of the CV school board arguing that allowing ninth-graders to play high school sports is not in the best interests of the kids who will be excluded.
“There was no problem until a kid didn’t play enough and people didn’t have enough compassion to share time,” said Collins.
When the issue resurfaced this month, so to did Collins.
The facts speak for themselves, he said. An example is boys basketball. Of 124 ninth-grade players, 100 won’t be able to play if the sport becomes part of the high school, he said, because there would be only two ninth-grade teams instead of five, necessitating cuts.
Keep the junior high teams and the truly exceptional ninth-grader could play on a high school varsity team, he added, if parents would lobby the WIAA for a rule change.
A longtime Valley resident, Collins, 72, is retired from Ralston-Purina Co. He is father of six children and stepfather of five others, remarrying after his first wife died.
He coached St. John Vianney Catholic Church high school youth sports and was coordinator of Spokane’s Catholic Youth Organization athletic league in the 1960s.
But he’s emphatic when he says the story isn’t about him. It’s about kids and a school district’s obligation to provide teams on which they can play.
The present system makes the most sense, he said, and he will continue to campaign for its preservation.
“The junior highs have quality people and provide quality programs,” said Collins. “All I’m saying is let’s get more kids involved and let them share the wonderful activity of sports.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Saturday’s People is a regular Valley Voice feature profiling remarkable individuals in the Valley. If you know someone who would be a good profile subject, please call editor Mike Schmeltzer at 927-2170.