South Whidbey High School athletics code, fees to change

Scott Mauk tells school board members his plan to raise athletics fees to help cover a five percent budget cut at South Whidbey High School. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Scott Mauk tells school board members his plan to raise athletics fees to help cover a five percent budget cut at South Whidbey High School.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Change is on its way for the South Whidbey High School athletics code and sport fees.

Scott Mauk, athletic director, presented a first draft of revisions and additions to the code and payment structure.

An anti-hazing policy and specified academic eligibility rules will be included, making the tradition of freshmen athletes cleaning the buses, “a thing of the past.”

Although the initial suggestion of doubling the fee to $100 for each sport was not supported by the school board, playing for the Falcons is certain to be more expensive next year.

“We can’t continue to afford to do everything,” said Jo Moccia, superintendent of the South Whidbey School District.

The building budget at the high school, from which athletics receives the bulk of its funding, will be reduced by 5 percent next year. In order to purchase and replace equipment like football helmets — required annually for safety reasons — the high school must charge more for sports.

“Looking at the conference, the cost isn’t just a screaming deal, it’s a little absurd,” Mauk said of the present sports fee.

Compared to other schools in South Whidbey’s athletic league, the Cascade Conference, costs for participating in Falcon sports has been cheap. The average cost among the other seven schools is $81, with Cedarcrest paying the most at $150 and Granite Falls, Sultan and South Whidbey paying the least at $50. For the past five years, South Whidbey athletics have cost $50 per sport, with spring sports fees waived if it was an athlete’s third sport of the year, fall and winter being the other two seasons. Mauk initially proposed doubling the sports fee to $100.

Potential students and parents wary of the cost worried Mauk and John Patton, principal of the high school. The last thing they want to see happen with increased athletics fees, they said, is decreased participation in sports and extracurricular life. That’s why they were adamant, and the school board concurred, to keep Associated Student Body fees at $20, which gets students into Falcon athletic events and decreases the cost of tickets to dances and other school events.

The line between covering a budget gap and keeping kids and parents engaged in Falcon sports was one Mauk knew he’d have to walk. His hope is that families that may struggle with a fee increase will approach Patton or Mauk to work out a deal.

“I really believe that if we create a culture of trust, kids are going to say ‘I need help,’” Mauk said.

Most of the athletics budget is spent on consistently increasing costs like fuel, ferry travel and officials (which Patton said cost $20,000 annually). Mauk recalled a conversation with a coach from the Northwest Conference, primarily schools in Skagit and Whatcom counties, who asked how South Whidbey could afford its travel expenses.

“The district has truly committed to athletics in a way that other districts don’t experience,” Mauk said.

The impact of the increased costs will likely be seen in participation  rates next school year. Those numbers will be watched closely by South Whidbey’s school board and superintendent for possible revisions in 2013.

“If we lose the numbers, then we know if we have an issue,” Moccia said.

Mauk chose to revise the athletics code to improve enforcement of academic eligibility and anti-hazing. The first-year athletic director told the board he struggled with enforcing academic rules this year. Part of the problem, Mauk said, was the switch from reporting grades every six weeks to every nine weeks, which makes it difficult to check in on student progress before the season ends.

“There’s no enforcement,” Mauk said. “I can’t hold athletics as a bargaining chip.”

Hazing was not an issue this year, Mauk and Patton agreed after Board Member Jill Engstrom asked if the anti-hazing clause was added after a specific problem. Rather, the two school leaders want to be ahead of any potential issues and define hazing for the school district.

“Hazing is not just harassing or bullying a kid, it’s making a kid do something to be part of a group,” Mauk said.

Patton added: “We’re getting ahead of the curve on this because it’s a national trend. We’re being proactive right now, not reactive.”

After an instance of hazing, the proposed code requires the accused student to be suspended from school and/or removed from the team. The previous code expelled students that hazed other students. An appeals process was also created to include a council of the principal, a coach not involved with the sport, a teacher, an Associated Student Body officer and a student-athlete not involved in the sport.

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