Parents are known for telling their children to make lemonade if life hands them lemons. After the first fall middle school sports season minus Central Valley, the remaining districts in the Spokane Valley Middle School League have tried the best they could to sweeten their batch of lemonade.
It was only a few weeks before school began when Central Valley announced it was leaving the league in order to save money on transportation costs, making the East Valley, West Valley and Freeman districts scramble to patch the holes in their fall sports schedules. The three remaining districts have only four middle schools among them while Central Valley has five.
The three districts all say they’re proud of how they’ve worked together. “The other schools have been very accommodating,” said Centennial Middle School athletic director Cathy Comar. They’ve bent over backwards to help us out.”
Games still happened, but for the most part junior varsity teams were left out in the cold. Freeman doesn’t even have enough students to field a junior varsity team in most sports. “There’s nobody to play JV games with, that’s what really hurts,” said Comar. “We were the only ones with a JV softball team.”
Coaches improvised where they could, adding extra quarters or innings onto varsity games so junior varsity players would have a chance to play. “You get creative,” Comar said. “You have to.”
“The kids are getting to play,” said Freeman Middle school principal and athletic director Jim Shaw. “We’re doing the best we can to provide opportunities to our kids.”
East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel said his high school coaches are expressing concern that the new order of business will affect their upcoming teams because middle school players will no longer get enough preparation or experience. Parents have also expressed similar concerns, he said.
Central Valley made the decision to save money and it is paying off for them, said Superintendent Ben Small. The district estimates that it costs $1 per mile to operate a bus, including fuel and maintenance. District buses drove 843 fewer miles for all fall middle school sports. The biggest savings, however, came in bus driver time. The district estimates that there were 82 fewer hours worked in the fall sports season this year for a savings of $1,822.
While those savings will continue for other sports seasons, the district might not save the $14,000 it hoped to.
Meanwhile the fall sports went off smoothly for Central Valley, Small said. There were significantly fewer football players, but he attributes that to the higher fees in the district’s new “pay to play” model. “I think that participating in our own league has been successful,” he said. “I think it’s going as well as can be expected.”
The districts are also expressing some frustration for the lateness of Central Valley’s decision, one that directly impacted them even though they had no say in the matter. “We were stunned when this happened,” Comar said. “It’s a shame that Central Valley did what they did.”
There may be a solution for the three districts, but it will come at a cost – literally. The Cheney and Mead School Districts have expressed interest in joining the league, but it would force the Valley districts to pay higher transportation costs.
“Our community expects us to provide a real experience and a valuable program for our middle school kids,” said Glenewinkel. “We’re very interested in that.”
“We want games to happen for our kids and to have some competition,” Comar said. “Who knows what it will end up developing into. Even if we only play one or two games with them, it’s better than nothing.”
Freeman Superintendent Sergio Hernandez was more cautious about expressing interest in expanding the league. “Obviously one would entertain that conversation,” he said. “It may just not be the right time.”
Despite his enthusiasm for expanding the league, Glenewinkel is also casting a nervous eye on the budget. But he is considering doing it anyway to provide the best experience for students. “We’ll probably have to make some adjustments,” he said.