High school coaches, players worried over sports budget cuts

Finally, there is something on which every Kauai Interscholastic Federation coach can agree.

Budget cuts stink.

On one side of the island, Kapa‘a High School Athletic Director Dwight Fujii has already written off as canceled winter and spring sports including varsity golf and swimming, and the junior-varsity (JV) editions of boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ volleyball and soccer n unless state Department of Education budget cuts are restored.

On the Westside, James Kitamura, athletic director at Waimea High School, finds it “absolutely insane” that his school was given just $10,000 for equipment for 33 sports.

It costs between $3,000 and $4,000 alone just to recondition football equipment, he said.

While a state Department of Education spokesman said it is unlikely that fall sports will be halted because of some $12 million in cuts ordered to the DOE budget by Gov. Linda Lingle, Kitamura has already prepared a contingency plan should JV football have its plug pulled in mid-season.

“If I have to, I’ll fund-raise myself,” Kitamura said. “It’s going to impact us big-time.”

Kitamura said small-team sports, and those that were added to the KIF list of sports more recently, are ones he sees at risk.

While the state Board of Education needs to formally approve cut amounts and determine which sports won’t happen this school year, Kitamura still bemoans the fact that some student-athletes who banked on playing sports in high school this year are going to be disappointed, potentially with nowhere to turn except a bad direction.

“To me, it’s pretty devastating to take away these kinds of programs for our kids,” especially when organized team sports have been known to keep young people away from dangerous drugs.

“We’re not a cure-all, but we certainly take a lot of kids off the streets. On the Westside, there’s not much else for kids to do,” said Kitamura.

“We’ve already been real tight on our budget. Fund-raising is a nonstop thing,” and from his own school’s perspective more money is raised by the student-athletes and families themselves than provided by the DOE.

“Budgets for high-school sports should be increased and not decreased, since they are used to keep our youth occupied,” said one Kapa‘a High part-time coach in a letter to The Garden Island. “It (sports) is also used as a tool to keep our youth on their educational track, (and) a tool to educate about drugs and its effects.”

As daunting as the cuts are, it is nearly as gut-wrenching not knowing how deep the actual cuts will be, or when they will finally be announced, Kitamura added.

Coaches and athletic directors are preparing for the worst.

“The budget cuts are forcing the (state) Department (of Education) to look at all of our programs, and sports is also been looked at very closely,” said Daniel Hamada, DOE Kaua‘i complex area superintendent.

“No final decisions have been made,” said Hamada.

Greg Knudsen, DOE spokesman, said, realistically, fall sports will not be halted because of the cuts. But, since fall-sports participants will be allowed to begin and end their seasons, participants in the winter and spring may suffer deeper cuts, including, potentially, elimination of some sports as Fujii worries.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to be concerned about this year’s fall-sports schedule,” Knudsen said. “There might be a little bit of belt-tightening, just to be prudent. But not a wholesale cutting of activities,” he said.

Equipment and supplies funding, as Kitamura discovered the hard way, and money for hourly employees like many part-time coaches, will be the first to be cut, Knudsen said.

“Now that’s for this year.” If reductions aren’t just one-time, then fall sports will feel the ax in the 2004-05 school year, he added.

“We have virtually no hope that the state is going to rescind and release additional funding, so we have to find $3 million in the first quarter somewhere” to cut from the entire DOE budget, and $250,000 worth of cuts to athletics, Knudsen said.

The state fiscal year’s first quarter runs from July 1 through Sept. 30.

“If money is restored to athletics, for instance, then it’s going to have to come from somewhere else,” said Knudsen.

Money won’t be cut from core programs or special education, so athletics as a “supplemental” program made for a logical target for cuts, Knudsen concluded.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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