Board Debates Sports

Don Heizer

Don Heizer Photo by Andy Towle. |

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In an era of penny pinching, the Payson Unified School District school board thoroughly debated its policy allowing non-students to participate in the district’s sports teams.

In the end, the board voted to let home-school, charter and private school students play — so long as they pay the hefty sports fees.

That discussion set the stage for Monday’s planned review of the district policy on whether to let youngsters not enrolled in regular classes participate in the full range of extracurricular activities — like drama, band and after-school clubs.

Payson High School Athletic Director Don Heizer told the board that 209 students are ready to play in the fall sports lineup, including four students enrolled in online school and two home-schooled students.

Students pay $200 each to participate in sports. Those fees, Credit for Kids donations, student fund-raising and gate fees at games cover the entire cost of the sports program — although this year the district decided to use federal forest fee payments to cover coaches’ salaries.

“On an annual basis, I bring this to the board to see whether or not to allow online students to participate in interscholastic sports,” said Heizer.

His annual check-in sparked a discussion as parent Robert Meyer and former student Tyler Aguirre weighed in as advocates for students in an online school sponsored by the state.

The comments by Aguirre and Meyer mixed up two separate extracurricular activities, AIA sports and after-school clubs. Many clubs also charge participation fees and rely on Credit for Kids donations to cover all their costs.

The district’s overall operations and maintenance budget provides virtually no support for either sports or other extracurricular activities, said school officials.

“You might not know, but I have the privilege of coaching the mock trial team and I love them and am personally responsible for what they know,” said Aguirre. “I’ve watched other high school teams. It’s particularly because of Benjamin Meyer the team is so good.”

“AIA does not govern mock trial,” said Superintendent Ron Hitchcock.

When Meyer stepped to the podium to speak, he said his sons have played sports in the district in previous years and he hoped they could continue.

“The concern comes down to money — we do raise money and give to the athletic program,” he said. “I would hate to see this not pass because of a couple of students.”

Besides the budget issues, the board had concerns about academic accountability.

Currently, the district checks grades of students in the program every week to make sure they are earning passing grades.

If students are failing in a single class, they can’t participate in any extracurricular activities.

“How are we able to document if a student is passing?” asked board member Jim Quinlan. “Do we have an honor system that students are passing? Is there a way to add an addendum — in other words, hold them to the same standards as our students?”

“That would be up to the parent to propose a way to adequately document that,” said Heizer.

In comparison to online educated students, the Legislature automatically allows home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities such as band, drama, sports, art, etc., despite those activities being funded by the M & O budget.

During the discussion, Hitchcock clearly defined the difference between the AIA policy and the local board policy regarding extracurricular activities.

“(Tonight’s vote) is only for the AIA programs,” said Hitchcock. “When you talk about special activities, such as skiing or mock trial, those are subject to local board policies.”

The board will review Policy JJJ — student eligibility at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 26 in the board chambers on Main Street.

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