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McGair: Threats of eliminating high school sports have become tiresome

February 11, 2014

It almost never fails.

Every now again, the budgetary scalpel cuts off funding for sports at the middle school and high school levels.

Naturally, such slicing prompts strong reaction from everyone in town – concerned parents to coaches to the real victims affected by this slashing of essential monetary support, the adolescent student-athletes.

Once the confusion of why sports are being eliminated in the first place subsides, vociferous battle cries of “You can’t possibly do this!” and “Think of the kids!” resound. Such pleas are screamed throughout a crowded school auditorium while elected officials are seated in wedding fashion at what would be considered the head table.

To be fair, the aforementioned recap of how interscholastic athletics ends up dangling like bait on a hook glosses over quite a bit. We aren’t privy to the accounting records in North Smithfield, which recently became the latest Rhode Island community to receive word that sports are on the chopping block. In this particular case, the threat is directed at springtime athletics.

We have, however, seen this entire act play out before, too many times in fact to believe that this current plight surrounding Northmen athletics will ultimately result in extinction.

With the past serving as our guide, we feel confident that somehow, the town will come up with the necessary means to remove baseball, softball, lacrosse, golf, tennis and volleyball at North Smithfield High from the endangered species list. Ditto for baseball and softball at the middle-school level.

Remember the summer of 2009 when it appeared that all sports at Woonsocket High would be cast aside? Come that autumn, it was business as usual for everyone at the Cass Avenue institution.

Cranston faced a similar plight three years ago, with West Warwick going through the aforementioned pangs of dread in 2012.

Just like Woonsocket, sports in Cranston and West Warwick were spared the rod. In all three instances, happy endings were authored and the beat went on, those dark and trying times all but fading to black – as opposed to remaining in the financial “red.”

Correlating North Smithfield’s predicament with what transpired in the aforementioned cities and towns, it’s hard to associate the belief that when there’s smoke, generally there’s fire.

Again, we don’t know what led up to the school department announcing that it’s operating at a reported $470,000 deficit. Such significant shortcomings have sprouted up around the state enough times that you can’t help but feel “Here we go again.”

To this outside observer, putting the word out that sports and all extracurricular activities are facing the death penalty is straight out of the ministry of propaganda. We’re talking about scare tactics that get a rise out of everyone and end up painting school and city council members as villains.

In the cases of Woonsocket, Cranston and West Warwick, light eventually appeared at the end of the tunnel following the initial word that cuts were inevitable. Miraculously, the funds turned up and everyone put down their pitchforks and torches. Saviors were anointed and kids returned to the fields or courts, doing what they enjoy best and competing in a fashion that brings pride and reverence to their school.

What comes across as ironic in the sports-related cases involving Woonsocket, West Warwick and now North Smithfield is that all fell victim to “scares” in the same year that elections for local municipalities were on the docket, or are scheduled to take place. Some may say it’s pure coincidence that these problems surface the same year when the fates of elected officials are placed in the hands of registered voters.

Whatever the true motive, rest assured that if North Smithfield sports are green-lighted, there are going to be incumbents who tout and champion that a favorable resolution unfolded under their watch. All is fair in gaining a political edge, after all.

As victories go, the restoration of Northmen baseball, softball, etc. would place a capper on a stressful show that, upon re-examining the entire situation, could be chalked up to mere bluster and political jockeying. From getting thrown a curveball to eventually watching some white knight with a bag of cash come galloping in on his trusted steed and dropping off the goods on the steps of town hall, it’s a script that’s been in circulation so much that it should become copyrighted.

North Smithfield aims to join Woonsocket, Cranston and West Warwick in the category of seeing sports make the transition from hanging on by a perceived thread to fully operational once more. There are more than enough examples to suggest that the fields and courts will not be lonely places come the spring, something to keep in mind as we wait for the clouds of uncertainty to break.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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