Are High School Athletics Worth the Cost?

Recently, the Bangor Daily News published a letter from a gentleman who identified himself as a Bangor taxpayer.  The writer expressed concern Bangor’s school budget for the 2014-15 school year is projected to be increased between two and three percent, pending city council and voter approval.  An increase in the school budget as well as the municipal budget would likely result in a tax increase.  Much of the increase in the budgets is due to additional health insurance costs.  How can this be?  But I digress.

The writer then goes on to propose to alleviate this burden to taxpayers, athletics should go to a pay to play model.  Boosters groups could then raise the money for those who are unable to afford the fee.

On the surface, I can understand the frustration of the author of this letter.  Government at all levels is noted for wasteful spending and being frivolous in utilizing our hard-earned money.  However, the tenor of the letter is flawed on so many fronts.

A good friend of mine, who has retired from a lengthy career in economic development perhaps said it best.  He was wary of the person who got up to begin every political statement with “I AM A TAXPAYER!”.  My friend quickly reminded me we are citizens first, taxpayers second.  Big difference in emphasis.  As citizens we have a paramount responsibility to see to it future generations have the same opportunities which were afforded to us.  Someone else paid the bill while we were growing up to have the chance to receive a quality education and participate in activities which further shaped us.  We cannot shirk our responsibility by having the attitude of “I’ve got mine, to hell with the rest of you.”

I’m always curious when it comes to debating budgets why athletics are at the forefront of the chopping block.  People don’t seem to advocate cutting music, art, or other activities, nor should they.  Perhaps the “dumb jock” stereotype still is stuck in a number of heads.  Studies have shown those who participate in high school athletics and other activities do better in school on average than those who don’t.

By the way, athletics and school activities typically account for roughly one to three percent of a total school budget.  It is not the behemoth expenditure many make it out to be.  If we were to completely eliminate athletics from the school budget, the savings to citizens would be infinitesimal, if anything.

Most communities throughout the state are extremely fortunate to have a very generous private sector.  Many of the newer sports added over the past several years are already being funding by private dollars.  Boosters clubs fill the funding gap for a number of items that were traditionally picked up by the schools.  Most field upgrades are also being funded through private donations, such as is the case with the ongoing work at Bangor’s Cameron Stadium.

Many efforts and proposals have been made to further reduce costs while still maintaining a high-quality experience for student-athletes.  A number of schools limit travel for their sub-varsity teams and may wait longer to purchase uniforms and other supplies.

So what value do athletics in the school environment provide?  Being a part of a team teaches one to sacrifice self for the betterment of the whole.  Involvement in athletics or other extra-curricular activities teaches valuable time management skills.  Self-discipline is developed as well as being able to handle oneself in a sometimes pressured-filled situation.  Quality coaches provide another mentor in a young person’s life.

Our communities are better places to live because of high school athletics.  How many times does a town rally around their team come play-off time?  It’s also a great form of inexpensive entertainment on what can be a long, cold, winter’s night.  There’s the pride that’s felt by the entire community when the local team goes all the way, when their kids do something special.

For all these reasons, school athletics provide the biggest bang for the buck in our educational system.  Let’s make sure this continues.



Bob Beatham

About Bob Beatham

Bob, a lifelong Bangor resident, has just completed his 21st season as the Public Address Announcer at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. Bob is also the public address voice for John Bapst Crusader football. He also currently serves as the scorekeeper for John Bapst basketball. Bob is an avid follower of Maine high school athletics, particularly football and basketball. The University of Maine at Farmington graduate is the service coordinator at Aging Excellence, which provides in-home care for seniors..