Who should have priority over the new Alta gym? The dilemma continues and has been the topic of discussion at several school board meetings. Coaches and volleyball players came before the board at a special meeting last week to discuss the matter.
School board members have made it clear at previous meetings that the middle school students should have precedence over the high school students for use.
Currently, the seventh and eighth grade volleyball teams remain after school to practice from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the new gym. The high school volleyball team practices in the high school gym at that time. The student athletes then drive to the middle school to continue on with their practice, breaking their concentration, after the middle school students are done, until 5:30 or 6 p.m. This makes for a long day for some of those students. Home games this season have been played in the new gym. Once basketball season begins, with middle school and high school teams competing for the new gym, the plot will thicken.
High school coach Jeannie Henningsen made several points at the meeting.
"We have some real concerns about the current situation and questions that we would like answered. Right now we believe that our student athletes are made to feel inferior and not given equal opportunity as high school athletes."
She continued, "Our first concern is what we've been told. The new one and a half million dollar gym is not just a middle school gym. It is for the high school athletes as well. However, the only time you can have adequate practice times - are when the middle school athletes are not using it. Then, we read in the paper that it is only for middle school student athletes. So our first question is - which is it? If it is both a high school and middle school gym, why doesn't the high school program get first honors for the gym?"
She continued by saying she and the other coaches feel it is a "hierarchy" and the high school program should get first honors for the gym.
"At the high school level, you play to win. You work all off-season, you do camps, you do open gym, so why not get the best equipment? Why not allow the high school athletes to have a home court advantage by using the gym?"
Henningsen commented that she has coached middle school students in the past and pointed out that at that age, the athletes don't do the same kinds of practice session as the high school athletes. The older equipment at the high school gym could be used by the younger athletes. "The equipment is not as important to them. To us, our current situation is like moving college athletes out in favor of intramurals."
If it is decided that the new gym should remain only for the younger athletes, than the coaches will fight for new equipment for the high school athletes to use at the high school gym.
"Under Title Nine, the law requires that our athletes are provided equality in terms of equipment, facilities and scheduling of competitive games and practices. Right now our equipment at the high school is less than adequate and it's been that way for several years. We lived with this, actually we requested new equipment but were turned down, because we were told that the new gym would be ours to use for the high school program. We do not have enough ball carts, balls or anything to run a program at two facilities. Honestly, our equipment is like using a goal post in football that leans 90 degrees to the left."
Coach Molly Elston pointed out that Alta has hosted district tournaments in the past at the high school and the coaches have been questioned about the inadequacy of the equipment. "The equipment has been good enough because that is all we've had to use," she said. "The equipment at the high school gym has been inadequate for some time but we've been told to be patient for three plus years. We were told to hold off that the new gym was coming. We need equipment to make it possible to have a good program. If we are going to be at the high school, get us new equipment and call it our home gym to play our games on, so we have home court advantage."
Another question the coaches brought forth is, "Have we told our tax payers one thing and our donors, students and their parents another? Why is this such a confusing issue? I know that if my family and some of our friends would have known that this was only going to be a middle school gym, then why waste that many tax dollars for a new gym? That is fiscally irresponsible."
A solution to this situation would be to incorporate an activity period into the middle school schedule. Henningsen said. Middle school teachers, administrators, the athletic director and coaches have done a great deal of research on implementing an activity period, from 2:30-3:30, for middle school athletes to practice, allowing them to go home on the bus instead of relying on parents or others to pick them up after practice is complete.
"This activity period would help out all students in our system and not just the athletes. For example, the middle school students may decide to become involved. Students who are involved in sports but may may be involved in fine arts could do a middle school yearbook class, jazz band or show choir group. It is not just for athletes. This would allow more opportunities for all students at the middle school level. And for the high school students, they would finally have a set routine for practices and their days would be shorter since they could be done practicing by 5:30."
There is evidence that the activity period does work - four of the seven schools in the Alta conference incorporates an activity period for the same reasons - gym issues.
She continued, "Isn't this a win-win situation? Right now, we believe that high school students' needs are not on the radar. Our high school students feel inferior and not supported. We're just fighting for our student athletes. Right now, no one is winning."
The board will continue to hear from coaches, administrators and the athletic director as to how to arrange scheduling. Options will be reviewed at Monday's school board meeting. School board action will be taken at the November meeting.
A final question, one all of the coaches have heard heard from people in the community and coaches from opposing schools, "Why is this a school board concern?" Henningsen and Elston and others feel the athletic director should be making this type of decision, one that is best for all of the athletes.