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High schools: Issues facing athletic programs

Shrinking talent pool

Fewer athletes are competing and reaching the varsity level, Verdigris’ Gary Kennemer said. Is it an epidemic?

“At our level (Class 3A), it’s not uncommon to find schools who don’t have enough kids to field eighth-grade, freshman and junior varsity teams,” Kennemer said. “It’s the first time I can remember it being like this.”

Kids are specializing at an earlier age and spend a good portion of the 12-month calendar concentrating on one sport. Many who started early grow weary of the process and simply drop out.

In the old days, the same core group of boys played football, basketball and baseball. Having fewer multi-sport participants is a problem for schools the size of Verdigris, whose roughly 350 students must fill the rosters of 12 varsity girls and boys sports.

Social media uses and abuses

Twitter and Facebook have proven invaluable for connecting with large numbers of school patrons. But the same tools can become problematic when used unwisely by misguided individuals.

“It’s not something you can police, but you just want your kids, coaches and teachers to be smart about it,” Union’s Emily Warren said.

Redskins seniors hear speakers discussing what universities are seeking in potential students, and the long-term damage a student can inflict on himself with an ill-chosen social media posting.

“You want to remind them that whatever they put out there can follow them around forever,” Warren said. “If you’re looking for a job, an employer can Google your name and the first thing that comes up is your Twitter account.”

Prohibiting the use of such tools “probably isn’t reasonable in this day and age, so a lot of schools are dealing with it,” Warren said.

– MIKE BROWN, World Sports Writer

HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC directors took time off during the Oklahoma Coaches Association convention to discuss key issues facing their programs.

Gil Cloud, a former Union High and Northeastern State University athletic director, has more than 40 years in coaching and sports administration and is in his second full year as head athletic officer of the Tulsa Public Schools.

Emily Warren recently celebrated her first anniversary as Union High’s AD. Tony Martray is in his 20th year with Catoosa Public Schools and his ninth as athletic director.

Gary Kennemer is in his 10th year at Verdigris and third as AD. Michael Moore is a former assistant football coach and site coordinator at Lawton MacArthur and recently became AD for the entire Lawton district.

For more issues facing athletic programs, see B5.

Money, money, money

With state funding for education down drastically over the past 10 years, this issue trumps all others, as it affects every area of school life.

“It’s all about the golden rule. Those who have the gold rule,” TPS director of athletics Gil Cloud said. “If you have more money than me and spend it wisely, you’re probably going to beat me most of the time.”

Districts operate largely off gate receipts, but attendance at high school sporting events is down in many areas. Lawton AD Michael Moore said his district produced $20,000 less in attendance revenue last year.

“People have their kids’ little league practices and games, and movies are expensive, so they’re having to pick and choose what they go to,” Union AD Emily Warren said. “We all have to be creative about what, when and how we purchase.”

Costs are soaring, but it’s hard for districts to justify raising ticket prices year after year, Verdigris AD Gary Kennemer said. “We’re still working off the budgets we had 10 years ago.”

Said Catoosa’s Tony Martray, “Equipment is a huge burden. One football helmet costs in excess of $200, and when you put a kid in shoulder pads and a uniform, you’re talking about almost $500 per kid.”

Districts rely more than ever on booster clubs and private donations for additional funds. Schools purchase the basics, but parents and students often raise their own funds to finance out-of-state trips and other discretionary items.

“At Verdigris, somebody is selling candy bars 12 months out of the year,” Kennemer said.

Hiring coaches

Many districts face shortages of qualified, full-time mentors. Cloud supervises 400 coaching positions in the Tulsa Public Schools and 25 percent are filled by adjunct personnel.

Lawton’s Moore sees a similar problem.

“We have a lot of openings, particularly at the middle-school level, and what concerns me is that we just don’t have as many young coaches going into it with the mind-set of being career coaches,” he said.

Many who enter the profession want to start immediately at the varsity level.

“They’re not interested in starting in junior high and working their way up,” Moore said. “You just don’t see the guys who coached for 30 and 40 years because they loved the game and money had nothing to do with it.”

Cloud said fewer people are entering education across the board. Tulsa’s situation is complicated by not playing the most competitive coaching stipends. Cloud has lost three varsity head coaches this year.

“We’re trying to address that issue in negotiations with the teacher’s union,” he said.


Large West, Small East win wrestling

The Large West and the Small East teams won their matches on Wednesday night in Bixby. B4

West sweeps girls basketball

Muskogee graduate Kelsey McClure took a break from college practice to participate in All-State, but the Large East fell, 73-51. B5

Bartlesville’s Johnson relishes role

Longtime Bartlesville girls’ basketball assistant coach Rick Johnson will coach the Large East boys’ team Thursday night. B5



Mike Brown 918-581-8390



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