OPINION All-Sports Co-op – A Better AlternativeOctober 02, 2017
Submitted by Gerry Halpin
September 19, 2017
I am Gerry Halpin, a CPA here in town. I served 14 years on the PLT#3 school board, including 5 years as president. I have coached youth sports, served as a volunteer baseball coach for the Panthers, and have run the clock and announced lineups at basketball games for the last 20 years. My wife Jan and I have 3 children who graduated from Prophetstown High School and from Big Ten universities. All 3 played both Prophet and Panther sports in high school.
I would first like to review the history of the all-sports coop question. We have been batting this issue around for nearly 5 years now. In July 2013, the board had scheduled a meeting on this topic for the night AFTER the Prophetstown main street fire. After this meeting was cancelled, our board requested that our superintendent contact Erie’s superintendent and tell him that our board was not interested in pursuing any further coop arrangements at that time. This is still the only official action our board has taken on this matter. The next meeting was in August 2015. After much discussion, it was left that the subject needed more input and more discussion. That brings us to April of 2017. Again, there was much discussion with no consensus. I applaud our board for developing a master agreement for managing the existing co-ops, something that has been needed for a long time. I have not yet seen this agreement, as it was not completed as of last week.
At the last two meetings, I had argued in favor of pursuing a cooperative high school arrangement with Erie, instead of just more co-oping. In a cooperative high school arrangement, each district would maintain its own K-8 schools, and would pay tuition to a cooperative high school. Most everyone at the meetings thought this made sense, but no effort to pursue this has been made to date. Erie proposed a large building program, which failed to pass by a 2 to 1 margin in a referendum vote. Now, we have already built Southern Whiteside High School – we are sitting in it. So why not seriously pursue the cooperative high school with around 440 students? Erie would not need to do all the construction and remodeling they are now proposing. With a new, larger high school we will have more efficient education with broader classroom offerings, and of course integrated sports teams with a new nickname and new colors. Forming an all-sport coop now will just make this process more difficult. An example of this would be the Cambridge-Alwood situation. These two schools have had an all-sports co-op agreement for about 5 years. They recently had a consolidation vote, which failed. Another example is the state’s largest basketball co-op, between Petersburg PORTA (enrollment 333) and Ashland-Chandlerville (enrollment 137). These schools have voted FOR the co-op, AGAINST the co-op, FOR the co-op again, and have had a consolidation vote fail at the polls.
I will give several major reasons why the all-sports co-op is not the best course of action for PHS, for our students, or for our communities.
1. All the other existing co-ops with Erie require about 15 to 30 players to effectively fill a team. In basketball, volleyball and golf, we only need 6 to 8 players. If we co-op these sports, only 2 or 3 players from each class and school will be able to play. Our combined enrollment according to the IHSA is 437, or about 110 students per class. Our 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 girls state basketball finalists both had 10 varsity players or less on those teams.
2. A Prophetstown-Erie all-sports co-op would be the second-largest in the state of Illinois. Prophetstown would be the largest school in the state to take a secondary role in a boy’s basketball co-op. The co-oping of boy’s basketball is normally considered the last step before a school consolidates or closes its doors.
3. Our board members want higher test scores and a better environment in our schools. The best way to achieve this is to encourage participation in extracurricular activities, which makes better students and better citizens. We should not be doing anything which would serve to limit participation even further than we already do, with the existing co-ops, and our band and chorus programs which have been decimated due to scheduling problems.
4. Many of the proponents of the all-sports coop give declining enrollment and shortage of players as the primary reason for going to the all-sport co-op. It has been stated that we are “unable” to field a fresh-soph basketball team this year. This is apparently not true. I discussed this with the Prophet fresh-soph girls coach last week. She said that about 15 girls total are expected out for basketball this year – this is enough for both fresh-soph and varsity teams. Apparently, our former athletic director was in a rush to tell the board and other schools that we wouldn’t be playing, rather than getting the actual facts. The girl’s basketball season does not start until November 20th, two months from now.
5. Our decline in enrollment is less than many of our neighboring schools. If kids do not go out for sports, this is OUR problem, not something we can hand off to another school. We have strong district with great facilities and no debt. But in recent years, we have been unable to hire experienced coaches or athletic directors. This is a direct result of the “dark cloud” of the all-sports co-op always hovering over our hiring efforts for these jobs for the last 5 years. If the cloud is removed, we can begin rebuilding our own sports programs.
6. The establishment of a strong freshman/JV program has been mentioned as a positive factor for the all-sports co-op. You may be able to schedule a full freshman schedule, but a full JV schedule is not realistic. Only the largest schools field full JV basketball teams. We would be bussing our reserve players many miles to play in cold, empty gyms on Saturday mornings. A couple of years of this and the program would fail, leaving more kids unable to participate. An example of this would be Fulton, who attempted to do this for several years around the year 2000, before participation inevitably fell off.
7. The question of control of the co-op sports is a sensitive one. Those who attended the last meeting saw a number of Erie employees speak at our meeting. The board members who attended that meeting are not blind. You saw Erie’s coaches chomping at the bit to get our kids into their programs. Our taxpayers and parents do not want to send our kids to Erie to sit on the bench in red uniforms.
8. Another factor is the economic effect of this decision. Currently, we have 24 nights per year when either volleyball, girls’ basketball or boys’ basketball are played at our gymnasium. This will be cut to half as many nights, or perhaps no nights. This reduced activity in town is bound to have some long-term economic effect, especially in a town which has lost factories and retail stores, and currently has around 40 empty houses.
9. Many of our taxpayers will object to the elimination of the Prophets’ nickname and mascot, which has been in use for nearly 100 years, and is unique in the United States. I know the Lyndon Wildcats and Tampico Trojans have been eliminated over the years. However, these mascots were sacrificed to obtain increased educational opportunities for the kids. In this case, we are giving up our traditions for what? Because we are being pressured by another district? I believe the both boards will act in their own best interest, and with continue with the Prophets and Cardinals, along with the existing Panther teams, if we do not approve an all-sports co-op arrangement.
10. There is one final reason to decline approval of the all-sports coop. The PHS students recently completed a survey on co-ops. While our students strongly supported the existing co-op teams, 64% of our kids who expressed an opinion voted AGAINST any further expansion of the coops (53% against, 30% for, 17% no opinion). So, if the adults are not in favor, and the kids are nearly 2-to1 against further co-oping, then why would the school board approve it? Sometimes the kids have the right answers on these questions.
Let’s review our reasons. First, we are attempting to do something that has never been done before. Second, it will hurt participation, when the fact that extra-curricular activities make better students and better adults has been accepted for 100 years. Third, we will likely lose control over these sports, as we have with the other co-op sports. And last, the kids themselves are not in favor of it!
There are a number of other steps we could be taking to oppose the all-sports co-op. We have not been calling board members at home, etc. We are leaving it to the board to make the right decision. For both the educational and the athletic advantages for the kids, we feel the right decision is to respectfully decline to expand the co-ops, and begin talks toward a cooperative high school.
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