Sports to Return to Marengo Middle School

Sports and other extracurricular activities will be returning to Marengo Community Middle School in the Fall of 2011.

Programs to return to MCMS include both sports and after-school clubs. Sports returning to the middle school will include: (for grades sixth, seventh, and eighth) co-ed cross country; boys' basketball; girls' basketball; girls' soccer; co-ed soccer; and co-ed track and field; and (for grades seventh and eighth) girls' volleyball and cheerleading.

"The ability to have sports return to the middle school was very much the outcome of the Booster Club and their ability to fundraise enough money to offset the costs for students who are eligible for assistance due to financial hardship," said Lea Damisch, Superintendent of Marengo-Union School District #165. "The Booster Club was given a goal to raise $8,000 on an annual basis to help offset the revenue that would be deferred for students who qualify for fee waivers. Through very hard work and wonderful community support, the Booster Club was able to fundraise that amount, thus the re-introduction of sports."

Damisch said it was very important that the, "revenue be sustainable so as to not have to change the fees on a yearly basis." The fee to participate in sports is $185 per sport, she said.

"The district set this fee based on the total cost of all sporting programs, which included the cost of coaches, transportation, supplies, and referees," Damisch said. "That dollar amount was then divided by the number of students who could participate based on a full roster. The district felt this was the most equitable manner in which to set a fee, thus allowing a sport with an unlimited roster, (track and field or cross country), to offset the fee for other sports, such as basketball or volleyball, that have to limit the number of participants."

After-school clubs will also soon be open to fifth through eighth grade students and will include: Computer Club; Environmental Club; Year Book Club; Spanish Club; and Student Council, Damisch said. Scholastic Bowl will also be available to eighth grade students only. There will be a $50 fee to join each club.

"All extracurricular activities, as well as band and chorus, were eliminated at the end of the 2008-2009 school year, saving the district approximately $38,000 for extracurricular activities and $60,000 for a full-time band and choir director," Damisch said. "In the Fall of 2010, the district reintroduced a scaled-down band and choir program at the middle school. This program meets predominately after school with parents being responsible for transportation."

Students participating in this part-time program pay a fee of $120, Damisch said.

"Through some very creative scheduling and sharing of personnel of District #165 and #154, this program has been able to stand alone and prove sustainability through a fee basis as well as a stipend from the Frank's Family Foundation for Fine Arts," she said. "Using this same model for sports, with a fee-based program and a viable Booster Club to help offset some of the costs; it is the belief that the district will be able to offer these programs again without negatively impacting the district's finances, which is the model as approved by the board of education."

Although the district's finances have been improving on a yearly basis through very conservative programming, the district is not able to underwrite extracurricular and fine arts activities at this point, Damisch said.

"Three years ago, the district made dramatic changes to the operation of the organization by eliminating 20 percent of certified and non-certified positions and 28 percent of administrative positions," she said. "In addition, the unions also made concessions through pay freezes and increased health insurance deductibles. Through the combination of cuts and the savings realized from the elimination of extracurricular activities, fine arts, and negotiated compensation, the district has slowly recovered and now is operating with a balanced budget and in the black."

Damisch said that for the first time since 2004, the district has not had to borrow money to operate, "thus saving the taxpayers unnecessary legal fees and interest."

"The extracurricular and fine arts activities are on a fee basis with the fee established offsetting the total cost of the program, thereby not causing any new expenditure to the budget," she said. "It is only by this model that the district can offer these programs."

The decision to eliminate activities was very difficult for the district and was the last round of cuts needed to balance the budget, Damisch said.

"By reintroducing these programs on a self-sustaining fee basis, the impact to the budget is null," she said. "All programs will be brought back with a minimum participation level established for self-sustainability. If the census in any program does not meet that threshold, then that program will not be implemented. The concept is fairly straight forward and should be able to be administrated without any undue interpretation. Every year, the fees will be researched to determine the equalization point for a self-sustaining program."

The district anticipates the total program to cost about $40,000, Damisch said. The fees and the revenue generated through Booster Club activities will offset the cost, she said.

Jill Quick, Vice President of the Booster Club, said the club's mission statement is:

"Every student attending Marengo Community Middle School has the opportunity to learn discipline, teamwork, and the achievement of goals through extracurricular activities."

Quick said the club's corporate sponsorships will help sustain sports at MCMS.

"This money we can count on every year," she said. "With an initial $300 donation, ($50 for a banner), and an annual donation of $250, a corporation [or] business will have their banner displayed in the gymnasium. Other levels of sponsorships are also available."

Other upcoming Booster Club fundraisers also include: a plant sale starting in early April, sponsored by Hoffie Nursery, and a golf outing on June 17th at Marengo Ridge Golf Course, Quick said.

"I think it is very important to recognize the hard work of the members of the Booster Club," Damisch said. "Without the inception of such an organization and vision of their leadership team, the activities would not be able to be re-established. At some juncture, it would be the goal of the district to be able to use some of their revenue to offset the cost to participate in the programs. However, with the current financial crisis in Illinois, the eminence of such an action will not be forthcoming soon."