Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport

Posted by: Noel Jones

At the Easton Area School District workshop last week, I and other residents got a large dose of something I've heard muttered in the past, but never witnessed myself--our school district's bizarre fixation on, and prioritizing of, sports programs. If you watch the meeting, near the end of the first half, Dr. Duffy gives a presentation on the new strategy of the guidance department who gives minimal lip service to counseling sessions designed to focus on academics or potential career talents and paths, and then spends much more time dwelling on the part of the counseling strategy designed to identify kids with natural talents for sports as early as the fifth grade, so that they can be directed toward the appropriate coaches and groomed for eventual Division I status. He makes no mention of the arts at all. School board member Kerri Leonard-Ellison interjects to ask whether or not the same amount of energy is going to be spent on kids without athletic ambitions, and he responds with an example of hyperbole--an imaginary kid who wants to be a brain surgeon and learn to do vinyl upholstery--and says that yes, they will counsel that kid too--that the program is for everybody, and then goes back to talking about  sports. His tone seemed to suggest that it was an unlikely hypothetical for any of Easton's students to ever think they might grow up to be a surgeon. Early on in his presentation he says, "not all of this is going to be aimed at academics or getting kids to go to college, because the truth is, not all kids want to go to college or should go to college. We all need people that will go into the military or...into vocational education."

Now, I can understand that not all students want to go to college, and that vocational training

is also important and vital to a healthy community. But a large part of the reason that there is an inordinate amount of low-income Americans that join our military, is because the military offers some college tuition reimbursement, and they can't afford full college tuition on their own.

With a high school that is in Corrective Action II for its third year under No Child Left Behind, I have a hard time buying that we need to focus less on getting students into college, and that we need to focus more on getting them into the right sports programs at younger ages.

But what disturbs me most is an assumption that seems pervasive when high school sports are discussed in Easton, both in the community and in the board room, that they are of primary importance rather than an extracurricular activity. For instance, we are about to begin building a high school hall of fame downtown. Last year, there was a reunion football game, a rematch of a game from years past, between Easton and Phillipsburg, I believe. I heard that over 14,000 people attended. If I'm not mistaken, that's over double the number of registered voters that chose to vote in the last local election. If we assume that half of those people were from New Jersey, that still means that more people cared to attend that football game than cared to vote for the elected officials whose decisions directly affect our quality of life, and the amount of taxes we pay.

If that doesn't bother you, maybe the amount of money that the EASD has spent so far on the new astroturf they put in a few years ago will. Why can't they play football on a grass field?

Now, before I get anyone barking up the wrong tree, keep in mind that the astroturf is paid for out of the capital projects fund, not the general fund, and so is not related to the EASD's proposed 11.85% tax hike, which is to cover deficits in the general fund. But the turf, aside from an extravagant expenditure of capital project funds, is an important symbol of the  spending that has residents outraged over this tax hike. During the last meeting, as a laundry list of proposed cuts related to the general budget was proposed, residents on either side of me leaned over to say, "shouldn't they have been doing this all along?"

The answer of course is, yes, they should have. But they haven't been, and without residents attending school board meetings, running for office and voting in local elections, this elective body engaged in a spending spree that went unchecked by voting tax payers. It is our personal responsibility to participate in our public meetings to keep them honest, or we'll just get slammed more and more at tax time each year. Which brings me to the burning question on my mind...How can we make local politics as exciting as high school sports? Should we take up a collection and print jerseys? Assign resident cheerleaders to line the walls of the board room pom-poms in hand? 

These may be fun ideas, but the fundamental difference between being a sports fan and an engaged citizen remains: 

Democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires that everyone get in the game to win.


Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Nearly one million dollars spent on astro turf. Does anyone know if the girls' sports teams (e.g. soccer) can use the field? Or is it a football (boys) only playing field?

Anonymous said...

you're fooling yourself if you think everyday people are going to change. sports is ingrained in the culture of this town. people understand sports; they don't understand/trust politicians. and why should they?
science fair winners don't get cheered on. no parades are given for artists or writers. the rocket club doesn't have cheerleaders.
this isn't an Easton thing; it's an AMERICAN thing.
how many collecge graduates do you think live in Easton?
politicans can't be trusted, never have. people hate politicians, take a look at whats going on now w/ the tea party people.
instead of trying to change everything, maybe you should try living within the confines of reality.
the reality is this is a simple, working class town that likes going to football games and wrestling matches. if you are not comfortable w/ that, perhaps you might be more at home somewhere else.

noel jones said...

Anon 8:07--the reality is that this town is changing whether it wants to or not. it can either go forward with vision, or be drug kicking and screaming into the 21st century. you ask why people should understand/trust politicians? the answer is they should be able to trust the people they elect because they got involved, figured out who they can trust and not trust, actually found candidates to run, and helped them get elected. that is our personal responsibility as Americans in this democracy. what does sports have to do with our quality of life issues, that everyone loves to complain about? how do sports help us get to clean and safer streets, and economic opportunity? they don't. spectators sports, like movies, are a form of escapism, and i'll agree with you on one point--it is an American problem that we prefer to escape rather than to take personal responsibility. but while we're escaping, the people focusing on acquiring power are working on it every day, and if we don't participate, they run the show. do you like where the show is running?

the bizarre thing about easton is that so many people seem to reserve the right to complain while they're busy with escapism, and then defend it all and tell the "newcomers" to leave them be and better yet, leave town.

as for your advice to "try living within the confines of reality," well, i've never been a fan of confinement, and if our forefathers had taken that attitude toward life we'd still be hailing the Queen. it's those railing against "newcomers" that are denying reality.

noel jones said...

Julie~you would have been annoyed at the last meeting--the only proposed cuts to sports were to girls sports--cheerleading and delaying making lacrosse a JV/Varsity sport.

At least one of the newer board members, Sarah Bilotti, spoke up and challenged this--we have to remember that a few school board members are new and asking the right questions and need our support.

Anonymous said...

You're right Noel

Anonymous said...

My child participated in the science competition and won a first place award. That achievement entitled her to go to Penn State for the state competitions. Last year she went and her trip and housing was paid by the school district as it had been in years past. This year, she was told that the costs had to be paid by the student. Costs approximated $200. Less than 10% of eligible students are expected to attend and represent Easton. Of course, this is one competition that we should expect to lose. There are no cheerleaders for these kids.

Athletics are good. There is evidence that kids who participate in athletics graduate, do well in class and have good grades and go on to post graduate training. That is not Easton’s problem. The problem is how do you get as many kids to participate in athletics to take advantage of all of the benefits.

My child played basketball in elementary school. When you get to the middle school you see the realities of participation in Easton athletics. Close to 200 girls tried out for 60 spots-two teams with two squads. That number is for middle. An identical number exists for intermediate. 120 participate over a four year period. When you get to the high school that 120 number is whittled down to 30. We go from probably 400 kids wanting to play in their junior high years to 30.

All those scholarly benefits of athletics is lost. Fix it by having multiple teams or another high school. But, that will bust the traditions and the history. What’s it all about- the kids or the tradition?

Easton is running entertainment on Friday nights for the benefit of many oldsters in this community, nothing for the benefit of the kids. We need to re think what athletics are and how we get more kids involved and worry less about our East Penn standings.

It is ironic that the Easton football player to get the most national attention in the past seven years was a woman. And the possibility that the only Easton alum to see anything in the Pros in fifty years may be a former soccer player who never saw any action on our football field. Easton just does not have it. We havenot produced college or pro football players to continue this tradition. Look at P’burg, it’s one tenth of our size and they have managed much more. Time to move on.

Carinne said...

I can personally tell you that sports have always (in my lifetime), been the priority of the Easton Area School District, more than academics, more than arts, more than fairness. For as long as I have known this to be true, I have also been aware of many community members of various ages hating this fact. The time to speak up about the issue, and attempt to change it, is long overdue.
I recently shared my opinion with a former Easton wrestler who was an obvious fan of EAHS athletics, but still agreed with me. Between the two of us we quickly recalled several past stories of the big deal athletes getting away with possession of drug paraphernalia, smoking/ chewing on school grounds, and aggressive actions, with none of the consequences that any other student would face. If you find that acceptable, or would just call it “American”, as the first “anonymous” individual might, then I, as a lifelong resident, would now like to request that you move away from this town.
The guidance department representative that spoke at the last meeting, left me with the opinion that things are getting even worse. Two parents spoke up that night alone with negative stories. One said it was March and their child has not seen a guidance counselor yet this year. The other was a mother I personally spoke to who’s child with special needs has not seen a counselor at all, AND her many calls have been ignored completely. In both cases, the names should be requested of the counselors, and disciplinary action or termination enforced. If the issue is too many kids on a caseload, then certainly they can’t spend more time on athletes in the future.

Anonymous said...

As a grandparent of two young women who recently have graduated from EAHS, and as a retired educational professional (BA/BS, MEd, MA, Cert. and Specialist in Elem., Spec. Ed., Secondary Social Studies, Student Personnel Services, Guidance and Counseling, Supervision and Administration, etc.), I am appalled at the limited counseling and guidance provided two very capable students, who had outstanding academic records. EAHS has dropped "dropped the ball" on helping many students move toward viable post high school academics and careers. It seems to be a "crap shoot". For the sake of our children and this country, I hope that this attitude and bias changes.

Anonymous said...

Noel, this is unrelated to your post, but wanted to share that there is a lost Beagle puppy in the West Ward near the Cottingham Stadium area. Signs hanging up indicate that the dog is named Oliver and was lost on Tuesday morning (March 23). He has a green collar and spotted legs. If found, here is the number to call: 484-903-3420 and the person's name is Jackie.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:52 if this is a simple working class town that likes to go to sports matches then let those that that like it pay for it. Otherwise you are espousing SOCIALISM. Never was it decided anywhere that all of us should pay for some kids to play sports. Not in the constitution not any where. So fine have sports in your corner of this little town. But dont tell me to pay for it or you are socialist and you are the one who should leave or not had your family come over here in the first place with European customs. CUT SPORTS out of the school budget and lets see who really cares about kids in this town and who is really willing to put out time energy or money like they used to have to do it back in the day families played with their kids, taught their kids. They were not obese couch potatos good for nothing but rah rah rah.

darkesthour said...

Anon your suggestion about "perhaps you would be more comfortable somewhere else" is such a familiar refrain from a certain type of person who lives in Easton. Its a bullying tactic. I'm sure you felt momentarily terrific saying it. But its a poor reflection on the so called "sportsmanship" mentality of Easton.

g_whiz said...

My parents, having put 3 children through the Easton Area School system, have always had some very large gripes about the "counceling" programs at the school. I've been hearing more and more that makes me disagree. My parents were floored that my siblings and I were activley discouraged from college prep classes and my councelor? I met him ONCE before he decided college wasn't "for me". Three degrees later, I wonder if he'd have any idea who I was. I've heard it from more than a few persons of color with children at the school that there is something particularly problematic with the way certian students are disempowered. There's a lot about class and presumed intelectual ability that seems telling about the decisions here.

The tracking system in Easton works particularly well; once one is shunted into remedial programs the idea of testing out seems pretty slim. I don't have other schools to make comparisons against...but its something I might just do in the future.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

This post has elicited some very interesting comments that strongly suggest that the EASD prioritizes trophy sports over academics. No wonder it's a failing school district.

Returning to Noel's fourth comment, "yes," I would be annoyed to hear that the EASD is cutting back on girl's athletics -- the same year nearly $1 million was spent on astroturf for the (boys) football field.

Equal spending on girls and boys athletics is not only a good idea -- it's the law. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law, states that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Among other things, Title IX requires that an equal amount of money be spent on girls athletics as boys athletics.

Which begs the question -- if nearly $1M was spent on astroturf for the (boys') football field, how much was spent on the girls' athletic programs? Is the EASD in compliance with Title IX requirements?

For more info on Title IX, see

Anonymous said...

I know that sports plays an important role in the EASD but I must say that if you talk to students who graduated from Easton and went on to college they will tell you that their training and educational standards at Easton helped them get through college. They will tell you that when they speak to other students at their college they did not have the level of courses we have at Easton.

Sports are an important part in keeping many average students in school. Not just those that participate but those that attend the events and feel a part of the team as a fan.

Tradtitions are in Easton for a reason and not only sports are a part of the tradition. Our music program and choral program are outstanding. You talk about arts. Visit the art department and witness the calibre of the work.

Before making judgement about the level of education at least go and visit the schools. Talk to students and teachers.

Most of all don't criticize the guidance counselors until you realize that it was one area the was dessimated several years ago. Do you know how many students each counselor is assigned? You should call and find out. It may amaze you.

Easton schools have a lot of negatives but they have a lot of positives and academics is one of them. The bigger problem is the lack of interest of many of the parents. That is where we need to address our concerns and programs to get them involved. They need to be a part of the solution.

Anonymous said...

New food program at EACC is going have where if you get something you give something back.

This should be applied elsewhere to alot of parents here whose children get tax payer funded benefits and who basically manifest that therefore all they have to do is rest front of their TVs and in alot of cases collect benefits because they have come up with some kind of righteous disability. There are alot of those here and thats the truth. On the other hand, policies since Reagan and other Republicans (and Clinton helped) have caused some other parents to have to work so hard so many hours they just have to crash when they get home and they look to tax payer funded programs to raise their kids too. But every body has a right to have children. Shouldnt be.

noel jones said...

Anon 9:49--you say "Easton schools have a lot of negatives but they have a lot of positives and academics is one of them. "

how is that possible when EHS is in Corrective Action II for the third year in a row? to recap, Corrective Action II is the worst stage of No Child Left Behind, when students academic performance is so bad that by law they can be taken over by the state. we have been in the terrible stage academically for THREE YEARS.

you also say, "I must say that if you talk to students who graduated from Easton and went on to college they will tell you that their training and educational standards at Easton helped them get through college. They will tell you that when they speak to other students at their college they did not have the level of courses we have at Easton."

two former students of EHS have already posted here to the contrary, and one is an administrator on this blog. we've also heard here from a concerned parent and grandparent on the situation as well.

a popular refrain in Easton in response to the outcry for better youth programs is that the parents SHOULD be more engaged in their children's education. but this is no time for wishful thinking as an excuse for not taking action. many parents in Easton, like the commenter earlier, are engaged in the education of their children. but the hard reality in our country today, is that a large percentage of kids DO NOT have supportive parents at home, and we cannot afford to write them off and not expect it to ultimately effect our community negatively. an educated community is a healthy community, a civil community, a vibrant community.

noel jones said...

I've heard that colleges around the country are handling their budget crises by cutting sports programming altogether to the tune of millions of dollars. How much more money would we have to dedicate to the academic education of all our students if we cut the sports programs until the economy recovered and EHS is out of Corrective Action?

noel jones said...

I hope everyone can make it a priority to come out to the Easton High School auditorium tonight,Thursday, at 6:30 to speak up regarding the tax hike, the proposed program cuts, the teachers contract and anything else on your mind before the board votes. Even if you're shy about speaking, please come out to be counted as a resident who cares, to see what is going on with our elected officials and our tax money. This is going to be the biggest public meeting I've been to in Easton--it's nice to see people starting to take part in our democracy--see you there!

noel jones said...

At the school board meeting last week music student got up to speak about the unfair cuts in the music program when no significant cuts are being made to sports programs (except girls sports). Then, the other night, at a rehearsal, I met three teens who attend EHS, one who is a senior and a musician, and the others who agreed that sports stars at EHS get spoiled, and get away with a lot that other students don't.

At the school board meeting, when WW resident Carinne Buzzuto said that sports stars at EHS had always been spoiled, she was later chastised by a very huffy Kerry Meyers (coincidentally, president of Varsity E, who swears there is no conflict of interest there) who strangely pointed at the EHS art teacher presenting to the board (who happens to be African-American and whose sculpture of President Obama is headed to the White House) and said sarcasticly, "there's your 'privileged' sports student right there!"

Interesting that he chose to spin Carinne's word, "spoiled" into the buzz word, "privileged," to point out a female former athlete when only female sports are being cut so far, and an ARTIST AND ART TEACHER, to illustrate his point.

Who needs reality TV when you can see behavior like this live?