So we're all feeling warm and fuzzy about the Tewksbury High hockey team winning the Division 2 State Championship this weekend, as well we should.
Any time a group of good kids does great things, every parent in town feels at least a little tinge of pride and satisfaction. For lots of Tewksbury families, Sunday's state championship game was a little booster shot that makes you feel like maybe, just maybe things may not go to hell in a hand-basket before your kids are old enough to fend for themselves.
The Dohertys, the Pettis, the Cunhas and the Pruynes, the MacLeods and the Golinis, the DiGiorgios and the Mazzeis should all walk a little prouder this week, because their kids renewed our faith in the next generation over the past few weeks.
But what if I told you that the state championship trophy the TMHS hockey team earned this Sunday was the last one you'll ever see brought home to Tewksbury, because our school department is about to start pricing kids right out of the athletic program?
Hyperbole? Maybe. But I worry that we're going in that direction.
Tonight, the Tewksbury School Committee will once again entertain the possibility of dramatically raising athletic fees for the coming school year. The idea has been tossed around at the last couple of School Committee meetings, as a way to help make up for a projected $750,000 shortfall in next year's school department budget.
Only this time, it's listed as a separate item on the meeting agenda. As if to say, "we're serious about this."
Fortunately, the first portion of the School Committee meeting (7:30 p.m., Wynn Middle School library) is a public hearing on the proposed budget cuts. Anyone can come and voice his or her opinion, although that can sometimes amount to nothing. The meeting they had two weeks ago was also open to the public, but the only people who showed up were three parents of kids who march in the school band.
Yes, Virginia, we do have a school band at TMHS, all 12 musicians strong. But don't knock them. They got 25 percent of their parents to turn out in support of them.
The parents of our athletes, of which there are hundreds, apparently don't care if athletic user fees are bumped to $250 or more, per kid, per season, starting next year. None of them walked up to the microphone at the first public hearing.
But the bad news is, this might only be the beginning of the escalation in athletic fees. There are towns right here in Massachusetts, Hamilton-Wenham among them, that charge on a graded scale, according to how much it costs to run a certain sport.
Now your basic tennis or cross country team can probably be run on a shoestring, since there are no equipment costs, and very little facility expenses. But what about the aforementioned hockey team?
What if our hockey parents had to pay for every minute of ice time, all the equipment, every bus trip, and every referee? Hamilton-Wenham charges almost $1,000 per kid to play high school hockey in that school district.
I sat in the coaches locker room last Friday afternoon after practice at the Breakaway Ice Center with Derek Doherty and his Tewksbury High assistants, Dave DeRoche and Bill Gosse, talking about Sunday's upcoming game and what a great impact a state championship would have on the TMHS hockey program. We were all hoping for a win on Sunday, not just for the kids on this year's team, but for the future hockey players at Tewksbury High.
We were hopeful that the team's success this year would help persuade some future student athletes to go to Tewksbury High instead of one of the many private schools that recruit many of Tewksbury's top student athletes each year.
On Sunday at the TD Garden, during the post-game victory celebration, Doherty reminded me of that conversation. As parents of athletes and avid supporters of TMHS athletics, we both felt great about the hockey team's success, and what it might mean for the future. But will the impact of this championship be felt a few years from now if we price half the kids out of the program?
Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions here, or maybe not. I do know this: I've been the parent of at least one Tewksbury High athlete for four straight years now, and every year I've written out more checks, and bigger checks, than the year before.
At what point do parents start saying, "sorry, son, it's just not in the family budget?"
At dinner the other night, my daughter was talking about a classmate who wasn't trying out for the baseball team this week because his mother said she didn't have the money. So for at least some, the current fees are too much.
I know the self-proclaimed academics among us will point out that state laws mandate that we fund education, not extra-curricular activities and athletics. But I've written in this space before about how some kids learn how to learn much more effectively on the playing field than they do in the classroom.
In sports, the lessons are more dynamic. The results more satisfying. In most of our kids' naive view of the world, you are a bigger hero if you're good at sports than you are if you make the honor roll. And heroes love to go to school.
Sure, even if we get to the point where we eliminate all the sports, Tewksbury High will still be an accredited high school. But will anyone want to go there?
It would be irresponsible to protect athletics from cuts and then lay off teachers. But teacher layoffs have been taken off the table in the budget cut talks. Hopefully, our School Committee and school administration can find a way to balance the budget without hurting the TMHS athletic program.