High school football proposal is ‘all about the children’


   After reading various letters and opinions about the proposed high school football team, HIKE (Hopewell Involved in Kids Enrichment) wanted the community to understand our objectives and thoughts.
   HIKE organized in January 2002 because it saw a need for more sports opportunities for children in Hopewell Valley. We have focused on football to satisfy the ongoing needs of the 275 boys and girls participating in the local Hopewell Valley Pop Warner league (which requires minimum grades to play). While HIKE is initially focused on football, our name was designed so that we can assist with other sports and activities over time such as marching band and girls volleyball. Our schools are increasing in size and there are insufficient athletic opportunities for the students.
   Arthur Gabinet raised a number of issues and most importantly asked people for the true source of their feelings about football. HIKE has a strong belief that students need opportunities to participate in athletics and adding football can have the most impact to the number of opportunities for children within the Valley. We have worked to understand the feelings against football and are in agreement with Mr. Gabinet about those feelings. We understand the concerns about money and field space, which we have addressed in our proposal. Also, we are sensitive to the concerns about whether football will dominate the school and feelings that football is a sport that emphasizes brutish behavior with its reliance on strength and power rather than finesse.
   Those are difficult areas to address that go beyond money. The local Pop Warner program emphasizes the positive values of sport and that same commitment will continue in a high school football program. Certainly some schools have had issues with football and cliques that exclude students. We do not feel football increases the likelihood of those problems and they are best handled through programs such as the focus on respect that the district is taking on this year. Football is a sport that relies upon teamwork, probably more than any other. It is the one team sport that you cannot score without a team. Whether it is blocking, a hand-off or a pass, team members have to participate and work together in order to score. Football also relies upon intelligence; the game plan and plays are very complex. Teamwork and intelligence developed through football will carry a positive influence into the schools.
   Recent requests to "find out why football was voted down" last year continue to baffle the members of HIKE. It was quite clear. The extracurricular program question last year was to fund three new teams; a new lacrosse team, a new girl’s high school softball team and a new freshman football team. Typically sports teams do not have to go through a referendum process to start up. Recently, in the year 2000, a sports team was included in the Hopewell Valley budget. That request went through the normal procedures for starting a team. It was proposed to the board, and within months approved to start. The cost for coaches and some equipment were then added to the budget. The budget in 2000 was voted on and overwhelmingly approved.
   Why the double standard for football? What sports programs in the Hopewell Valley School District ever went through this scrutiny or discrimination? Why? Do we fear that our children’s best interests are being pushed aside for the mythical fear of a "change in culture"? If this is true, someone please describe how this change will happen. Surely, with the over 400 high schools in New Jersey that started a football program, there must be an example of this somewhere. Montgomery Township just started a football program a few years ago and they are rated higher in academics than Hopewell Valley. In fact, they are rated one of the highest in the state. Does this sound like football ruined the culture in Montgomery school district?
   The board does have guidance in these situations. The community got together a few years ago with the administration, the board, teachers and students to create the Strategic Pan. Here, the Mission Statement was created by our beliefs and goals. The Hopewell Valley Regional School District Belief Statement states: ".. that all students are entitled to the opportunity to maximize their talents and abilities." Furthermore, the Program Goal from the Strategic Plan (also created and approved by the community) states: "To provide and regularly review a wide and relevant array of extracurricular activities at all levels that foster life-long learning by nurturing the unique talents of each individual and promoting social responsibility."
   Understanding the school district is having difficulty passing athletic funding issues, HIKE established a different proposal. HIKE will hand over funds (donations from people, businesses and fund-raisers) to the school district to start and run their own football program, no strings attached. If the plan fails, the taxpayer’s have lost nothing. When it is successful, the district gets the best start for a first-class program that any school district could possibly ask for. There is some concern of costs to the district when it takes over the funding. HIKE has proposed a graduated funding schedule where the district would pay 25 percent of the costs in year three, 50 percent in the fourth year and 100 percent in the fifth year. This softens the impact to the taxpayer and allows the board to gradually implement the program into the budget.
   One letter to the editor mentioned that only a "tiny percentage of the male school population" is interested in football. Last year, out of the 484 boys enrolled in the high school, only 72 boys were eligible to play fall sports. We are working to provide 100 more boys the opportunity to play a sport, which is played in every high school our size in our state. Our town has a Pop Warner program that has tripled in size in three years and now there’s no high school program for these boys to move on to … that’s embarrassing and sad. Football has a positive impact on other activities such as the vast opportunities that will come to the marching band. Can you imagine, the Hopewell Valley marching band with a half time show? It would be wonderful and we could be so proud. Tack on another 100 children who would benefit from this program. We are now up to 272 children and we didn’t even mention the drill team, cheerleaders and the other support groups! Suddenly this is not a tiny percentage of students anymore!
   HIKE realizes that change is hard, especially when something has not been around for 70 years. That’s why HIKE wants to provide as many opportunities to talk, debate and even learn about this exciting new program for our students. We encourage the community to explore their concerns. We have monthly meetings, which we invite the public to attend. Call our HIKE Hotline at 730-1856 or log on to our Web site at www.HIKE4football.com. Here you can learn about the program, get our meeting dates and times, add your thoughts on the bulletin board, sign up on our mailing list and you can even donate your time and/or money to HIKE! Come visit us at Pennington Day for more information and fun! Yes, we do understand. It’s all about the children!
   Executive Committee of HIKE — George Helmstetter, Kris Kley, Patty Arhontoulis, Michael Foster and Greg Myers