By Terry Dean
If District 97's April 5 referendum fails, officials say drastic cuts will have to be made to reverse its budget deficit. Wednesday Journal has been looking at some of the programs on the reductions list leading up to the vote. In this issue, after-school sports and activities.
Last year produced another successful season for the Brooks Middle School Varsity Boys Basketball team.
In recent years, the boys team has won either its conference or playoff championship and sometimes both. This season saw the varsity squad finish 18-3, taking the Western Suburban Conference Tournament after finishing second in the conference. They've won more than 100 games in the last five seasons, losing just six. Last year, they won the tournament while finishing first in their eight-team conference, which includes Julian Middle School.
Along with girls and boys basketball, Oak Park's District 97 also offers boys and girls volleyball, cross country and co-ed track.
The prospect of after-school sports — as well as some non-athletic activities — possibly being axed next fall troubles Darren Haus, the boys varsity basketball coach.
"It would be devastating for the kids in the district, with all of these programs getting cut and teachers being let go," he said, referring to the list of more than two dozen programs targeted for elimination if the April 5 referendum fails. Non-athletic programs that could go by the wayside include jazz and rock bands, orchestra, mentoring activities and community service programs.
With no athletic budget, Haus, who also teaches math, said both Brooks' and Julian's conference play will surely end.
Haus has spent eight years as a classroom instructor and basketball coach at Brooks, 325 S. Kenilworth. He's been a teacher for 14 years and coached kids even longer than that, he said. Coaches, all of whom teach, receive an additional stipend for coaching. The district has no athletic director or coordinator. Each coach schedules games and handles transportation. Dist. 97 has no athletic "booster" group to do fundraising. Money for sports and after-school activities comes directly from the district.
Haus estimates about 200 kids participate in these programs. The basketball teams boast a roster of 15 kids. They play anywhere from 19-22 games a season, which takes place in the fall and winter and includes a couple of tournament games hosted by the Village of Oak Park. The middle schools have a boys junior varsity squad as well. NBA pro Evan Turner, who currently plays for Philadelphia 76ers, came up through the Oak Park middle school system and was a star player at Brooks in the early 2000s. He was drafted last year after starring at Ohio State.
Brooks' current players practice five days a week either before school — from 7 to 8:45 in the morning — or after school from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Haus is doubtful that kids would get the same coaching and teaching experience if the park district took over middle school sports, an idea discussed within Dist. 97.
"Coaching and teaching is a special relationship," Haus said. "Most kids might play sports if it goes over to the park district, but they won't get the same development. We see the kids everyday versus someone who might come in for an afternoon or one day a weekend. To be able to see the kids in the classroom and see them bring these life-skills to the court, that's something special."