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Keeping Participation Levels Up Despite Shrinking Budgets

By Marisa Miller on September 06, 2017 hst Print

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has had a number of budget issues since 2008, causing problems for all Oklahoma public schools. Schools in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa have seen their budgets reduced drastically and have had to make some tough calls on eliminating positions, activities and athletics.

Keith Sinor, athletic director for the Oklahoma City Public Schools, says the budget cuts have affected athletics in his city by way of equipment and uniforms.

“The mission doesn’t change,” Sinor said. “We just have to continue to think of new avenues to meet the needs of the kids.”

Oklahoma City Public Schools is Oklahoma’s largest school district with about 45,000 students. Approximately 30 percent of the district’s students participate in athletics.

Oklahoma City has begun partnering with local community organizations to fill in the gaps within the budget. Since early 2012, Fields & Futures, an organization with a mission to grow student participation in Oklahoma City Public Schools by rebuilding 44 athletic fields, has completed the rebuilding of 20 athletic fields and is in the process of completing three more.

“When the cuts hit, our community really rallied around us,” Sinor said. “[The organizations] helped to keep kids excited about participation in all activities and athletics.”

Other community organizations have stepped in to help with equipment and team meals. Oklahoma City was also awarded the NFL Foundation Athletic Trainer Grant, and with the help of local Mercy Hospital, now has four full-time athletic trainers across the district.

Tulsa Public Schools has also been hit hard, with a $6.7 million cutback last year and a projected six percent reduction in funding this year. The budget reductions have caused the district to cut around 70 coaching positions and impose a 75-mile travel limit for all sporting events – except for district and playoff mandated contests – in order to cut down on travel expenses. The district also had to eliminate varsity swimming from all but two high schools.

Despite the financial hardships, Tulsa Public Schools have some of the top athletic programs within the state.

“The one thing that is kind of exciting is that we won two state championships last year, and we are competitive in our programs,” said Gil Cloud, district athletic director for Tulsa Public Schools.

The success of these programs has allowed Tulsa students to continue to be engaged with athletics in the area and keep participation numbers consistent.

“The overall participation is remaining fairly constant through the high schools,” Cloud said. “We are encouraged by that and by the continued success.”

Tulsa Public Schools have nine high schools with about 9,000 students. Including middle school athletics, participation sits at 4,300 students.

In Tulsa’s 11 middle schools, each school used to have separate seventh- and eighth-grade teams in the sports of football, volleyball, girls and boys basketball and girls and boys soccer. There is now one squad to combine the two grade levels in each sport.

“I don’t think [budget cuts] will happen this year,” Cloud said. “I think that this next year, our legislature has gotten the message. I think that the voters are going to speak loud and clear during the election process. Education is going to be a priority in this state.”