Backs to the wall

Moffat County coaches and physical education instructors struggle to keep up with competition

— With the ever-shrinking budget for the Moffat County School District, some programs are going to be cut.

Physical Education and strength training classes are two areas of recent slashing, causing concern among teachers and coaches.

Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School are bleeding blue and white from the cuts.

The problem is, first aid is expensive.

"The pressure is on academic achievement," Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan said. "Not the wins and losses of our football team."

Sheridan said the district's focus is in the core areas of education - math, science, English and social studies - and the majority of its funding is earmarked for those subjects.

"If we are not achieving success in our core, are we going to shift more funds into PE?" Sheridan asked. "Absolutely not."

Jane Harmon, Moffat County High School principal, said the district's focus is on complying with the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal mandate founded in 2001.

"We want a well-rounded education for our students," she said. "It's incredible to think that we should give as much attention to Physical Education as we do to academics. Academics are first."

However, the conflict between academics and PE being played out in the cash-strapped Moffat County School District isn't necessarily indicative of the partnership the two could play under No Child Left Behind.

A report published June 12 by the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, states that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is "an opportunity to enhance Physical Education (PE) and Physical Activity (PA) in our schools."

The report goes on to state:

• A strong PE program can lay the foundation for students to engage in a lifetime of physical activity.

• Physical Activity plays a significant role in academic success. The correlation between physical activity and academic success is one that is often overlooked in schools across the country.

• Studies have demonstrated that Physical Education and Physical Activity programs have positive effects on academic achievement, including increased concentration, reduced disruptive behavior and improved performance in math, reading and writing.

Those are some of the core classes Sheridan was referring to.

"I'm not saying it's not important," he said. "You just can't get those core classes taught to students at home. PE you can do at home."

Craig Middle School

At the middle school level, some students are introduced to the importance of physical fitness for the first time.

This year, the school board cut a Physical Education instructor position.

Todd Hildebrandt, one of two remaining PE instructors, said the effects have already been felt.

"The budget has hurt us," he said. "Now, all the kids that want to, can't get into PE."

Hildebrandt said class time also has been reduced.

"We used to have PE for the students during the full year," he said. "Now, the most that they can get it is for nine weeks.

"If we are sending a message that we can disregard physical fitness, it will create an impression that physical fitness isn't important. Is that the message we want out in the public?"

In 2004, Hildebrandt applied for a state Physical Education Program Grant. The grant would have provided $12,500 toward athletic equipment.

He was denied.

"There wasn't enough community support then," he said. "We went out and got that support and they responded."

Hildebrandt said the community stepped up by donating fitness equipment now offered to CMS students.

The problem is there are not enough PE instructors to supervise the usage.

"We don't have the staff to use it," he said. "The community gave generously, and the stuff is collecting dust."

Bobbie Evanson, the second Middle School Physical Education teacher, said she agrees.

"It's a shame," she said. "What's happening is that the administrators are so worried that the CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) is all there is, but that's not true.

"We need to expose our kids to the importance of exercise. It's a lifelong event."

CMS principal Bill Toovey agrees.

"Wellness is critical to these kids," he said. "The problem is on finding the right balance between fitness and academics.

"It is very important to introduce students to fitness activities, but having the funding to do so is a whole different matter."

Moffat County

High School

The decline in PE funding has been felt at the high school as well.

Varsity football coach Kip Hafey has watched teams in the Bulldogs' Western Slope League catch - and sometimes pass - Moffat County in football superiority.

"You look at a school like Montrose," he said. "They had won two games in four years. They have a four period plus one zero period (study period) academic schedule. They now offer five weight lifting periods a day. We offer two, in a seven-period schedule. There is a reason why they have been a state championship contender every year since.

"How can we compete with that?"

In the 2001-2002 school year, Hafey said Moffat County offered six weight lifting periods and 18 PE sections.

That has been reduced to two weight lifting sessions and 12 PE sections this year.

"The pressure from the school administration comes in the form of reading, writing, math and English," Harmon said. "Not football. I want them to win, but losing doesn't bother me.

"Students need two PE classes to graduate and five English. Which do you think is more important?

"Weight lifting is an elective course. If the kids want it, they can sign up. If not, the weight room is open 24/7."

Hafey said that the importance of PE and weight lifting go hand-in-hand.

"Weightlifting isn't for just football players," he said. "Studies have shown it strengthens the mind just as much as the body. Women see a decrease in Multiple Sclerosis cases, and it also strengthens life skills for every one involved.

"Of course, it is also a fundamental base toward a successful football program."

Sheridan also was a Moffat County football coach. His outlook on lifting weights was different then.

"I was the coach and the math teacher as well," he said. "I knew where my priorities were. If I had to choose between math and football - math always came out on top.

"My kids lifted before and after school."

Sheridan said that the PE instructors and coaches employed by the school board are more than capable of dealing with the issue.

"We have very skilled professionals in these areas," he said. "They can get it done.

"I still do exercise, just not between 8 (a.m.) and 5 (p.m.)."

John Vandelinder can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 211, or jvandelinder@craigdailypress.com

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