Posted on

What’s next for Granton?

Special committee will look at ways to save struggling athletic programs

Last June, the Granton School Board sat down with a group of concerned parents, students and coaches to discuss the future of athletics at the district. Though nothing concrete came from the meeting to solve the school’s problem of declining athletics, it set up the foundation of further investigation of the issue when everything became clearer.

Fast forward to Jan. 13 and the picture of the athletic situation is not only clear, but pretty bleak for most Granton athletes. The strength in numbers once a hallmark of the school’s basketball and baseball programs are now long gone, coop partnerships with other area schools seem exhausted, and an easy way forward is nowhere in sight. To find out what options are still available that could help the situation, the Board approved the formation of an investigative committee at its Jan. 13 meeting to research options for athletics beginning in the 2020-21 school year and report back its findings at its next meeting on Feb. 10.

For the parents and coaches who attended the Jan. 13 meeting, action on the decline in athletic participation needs to be taken soon. Basketball for both boys and girls and baseball have very low numbers, and the number of athletes coming up from lower grades is falling below the replacement rate.

“We need to do something,” said Dennis Jakobi. “We lost a lot of basketball players, I can’t see having a boys high school team next year.”

Currently, Jakobi said the boys team is made up of five seniors — two of whom are foreign exchange students — two sophomores and two freshmen. The number of eighth graders set to replace the leaving five seniors once the season is over? Just one.

“Once those five seniors are gone, we have five or six players,” he said. “We’re not going to have a team. We have to start somewhere if all of a sudden we don’t have a team.”

Numbers for the girls basketball team are also low. Coach Jason Strey said he has been trying to gauge interest in the upcoming eighth grade class and as of right now can’t find the numbers needed to even replace the amount of seniors that will be leaving.

“We’re looking the same,” he said. “We’re loosing three seniors, and I know only two that are thinking about it and one of them is questionable. We are looking at eight on a squad again.”

Discussing the reasons why numbers are so low across the school’s sports, almost everyone in the room was able to pick out one reason or another that has contributed to the decline. Lower numbers of students overall, students who open-enroll out, and students who simply don’t care to participate in athletic activities were some of the main ones listed.

“For open enrollment, most who open enroll out don’t even step into the building. Four year old kindergarten and kindergarten don’t come at all,” said Board president Theresa Hasz.

“I think the demographics have changed,” said Board member Paul Knoff. “When I went to school, everyone pretty much lived on a family farm. One generation removed, we just have a lack of kids.”

“They just find other things to do,” said district administrator Scott Woodington. “Some of these kids don’t want to compete at the high level, even in success.”

The overall lack of participation in sports has had some adverse effects beyond just the numbers. Strey said as a coach, he’s found it extremely hard to get his players to dedicate time and effort towards honing their skills in the off season, the kids knowing full well that right now the amount of bodies on the court are more important than the skills they bring.

“With the small numbers, they know they will play so they don’t practice in the off season,” he said.

“We wouldn’t have a (boys basketball) team right now if it wasn’t for our foreign exchange students,” added Jakobi. “We have the only co-ed baseball team in the area. They’re begging kids to play to have enough to have a team.”

This line of thinking is also trickling down to the lower grades. Knoff said he has seen similar behavior in middle school athletics and that it’s affecting the lessons the kids are supposed to be learning through their participation. “At middle school practice there’s no discipline and it’s not (the coach’s) fault,” he said. “The kids know they will play and several kids know they can get away with anything and still play. The reason we have sports is not to just trot out a team, but for the kids to learn valuable lessons. Unfortunately the kids are learning the absolute wrong lessons from all this.”

As for ways forward, the Board said it’s not going to be as simple as calling up a nearby school and asking for them to take their kids. It’s all happened before, and every time the co-op has failed due to a lack of participation from Granton students.

“Look at the other school’s perspective,” said treasurer John Richmond. “These co-ops were never ended by our choice. We never send enough students to make it worth bumping up a division.”

Participation levels seem to also decrease when a co-op starts, the Board pointed out. Looking specifically at sports such as volleyball and softball, which used to have lots of student participation before they were co-oped, Hasz specifically asked Strey if he knew what members of his team would do right now if the sport was co-oped with another school. He said in response that it has been a question he has asked his team already.

“I asked the team specifically about a co-op … three girls maybe said they would still go over there,” he said. “But the question is are they going to stick it out? I’d like to see the girls have opportunities to play.”

With no solutions forthcoming, Knoff suggested that the Board put together a committee to investigate and reach out to other area school boards to see if they can find a way to save Granton’s athletics. The rest of the Board agreed and Knoff and clerk Doug Eichten volunteered from the Board to lead the committee. With an April 1 WIAA deadline for any changes in athletics for the 2020-21 season in mind, the Board said the committee will have to report back its findings for its Feb. 10 meeting.

“The reason we have sports is not to just trot out a team, but for the kids to learn valuable lessons. Unfortunately the kids are learning the absolute wrong lessons from all this.” -- Granton School Board member Paul Knoff