THE DECLINING national economy, not surprisingly, is casting an ominous pall over high school and recreational youth sports—even at some of the most successful programs. Last summer Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High announced that district cuts would force it to eliminate its athletic program; actor Denzel Washington and Chicago Bulls star Ben Gordon, both of whom grew up in Mount Vernon, donated $100,000 and $15,000, respectively, to help keep fall and winter sports alive. But the school still needed $35,000 by the end of the month to salvage the spring season.
In San Jose, East Side Union school district superintendent Bob Nu√±ez has proposed a budget that would eliminate athletics from all 11 high schools (serving nearly 25,000 students) in the 2009--10 academic year. "I didn't do this for shock value," Nu√±ez told San Jose's Mercury News. "I did it because I need to look at the academic programs we would not have if we keep sports."
More typical are cutbacks like those in the nine high schools of central Florida's Volusia County: Freshman teams have been scrapped, travel has been restricted, game schedules have been cut by 10%, and athletic directors have been reduced to half-time positions in light of a 30% budget cut over the past two school years. "We have been told everything is on the chopping block," said Jose Fernandez, the A.D. at New Smyrna Beach High.
Also vulnerable are festivals such as the Empire State Games, New York's premier, twice-yearly sports competition that includes thousands of high school athletes and annually costs the state $2.7 million. The summer games have been canceled at their Hudson Valley venue, though they could resurface elsewhere. Jim Hammond, an event organizer, told the valley's Times-Herald Record, "We're an example of one of the unfortunate but understandable realities [of the economy]."
CJ GUNTHER/EPA (GORDON)
GIVERS Donations by Washington (left) and Gordon helped save Mount Vernon's sports; the reprieve may be temporary.
ARNALDO MAGNANI/GETTY IMAGES (WASHINGTON)
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