What one local community is doing to try to boost its high school sports culture

Calling for a change in the athletic program at Talawanda and asking for a joint community effort to strengthen the athletic culture in the district, several speakers told the board of education about formation of new group at Monday’s meeting.

The group — Community Unified for the Advancement of Talawanda Athletics — was formally announced at the meeting but had already set up a Facebook page to address concerns about what they see as a lack of enthusiasm for sports at Talawanda High School.

“Athletics are an integral part of the school climate, and we as a group want to continue making sure our Talawanda students are given the best opportunity for success now and in the future,” said Cathi Hainline. “For more than 60 years, Talawanda has been offering strong academics as well as strong sports teams. Our hope is that we continue seeing that expectation moving forward.”

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She asked the board and community to work together to improve athletics and increase the passion for athletics at Talawanda.

“I’d like to see an increase in cooperation between (high school) coaches and youth programs. We have seen a dropoff,” she said, citing the example of 30 sixth graders playing football in 2012 but in 2017, when they were juniors, only eight of them remained. “I’d like to see higher attendance. We need to hold coaches accountable. We want to see passion in the coaches for them to instill it in those they coach.”

Passion for the athletic program was listed by several speakers as a goal, saying lackluster results in many of the school’s sports is not acceptable.

Michael Wright said they need to see passion from the board, superintendent, staff, students and community.

“We want passion. We will continue with our voice and our vote,” Wright said. “We want to see passion from the top.”

Community Unified for the Advancement of Talawanda Athletics posted a statement on their Facebook page March 14 outlining what they hope to see in the school’s athletic program:

“The Community Unified for the Advancement of Talawanda Athletics is proposing that the school and community come together in a unified approach to do what is best for the students of Talawanda. Some of the issues that we would like to see addressed are: 1. Increased participation for all sports teams. 2. Increased cooperation between high school and youth programs. 3. Stronger sense of community among high school sports teams. For example, supporting other teams through attendance at games or events. (The football team goes out to cheer for the baseball team. The baseball team goes to watch the school play. The basketball players attend the band concert.) 4. Increase in the stakeholder input. (Parent/community surveys or input regarding qualifications of coaches, overall performance, etc.) 5. Unification of schools and community for the betterment of ALL students-athletes. This is not an all-inclusive list.”

They emphasized in an e-mail notice asking people to attend the board meeting that this is not in reaction to any one coach or sport but is intended to strengthen all athletic teams and the overall athletic program.

Bryan Price, who said he is a 1989 Talawanda graduate with four children, told the board he has coached youth sports leagues and is disappointed the culture has changed so that many young people do not choose to continue in high school sports.

“I’m crazy about my community. I’m crazy about my school. It saddens me what we have run across in the past decade or so. The fruit of a thriving community is a thriving sports environment,” Price said. “There are no character issues with anybody with me. We have accepted a poor athletic culture.”

He accused district leaders of not presenting any solutions to the problem and said taxpayers have provided money to the district but are not getting support needed for athletics. He said students are leaving the district through open enrollment and Edgewood is getting 11 more Talawanda students than Talawanda is getting from Edgewood.

“We have flooded you with cash but we are the poorest performing district in athletics,” Price said. “If we do not see more effort to change, we will work to repeal the 1 percent income tax.”

In their March 14 Facebook post, the group explained they want support in bringing change in the current status of Talawanda athletics.

“We have reached out and requested the opportunity to speak with school board leadership to discuss our concerns and hope to work collectively with them to evaluate the current state of Talawanda Athletics and work together moving forward to have high expectations, accountability and evident passion in relation to our athletic programs,” the post read. “Our kids in the Talawanda community must be afforded the opportunity to strong academics as well as strong athletic programs. Please join us along with the other supporters in seeing this opportunity for advancement come to fruition.”

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