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Track & field discontinued due to lack of athletes

Ajo Copper News of Ajo, Arizona

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After some remarkably successful fundraisers overseen by a volunteer group known as Keeping Kids on Track, the track & field program at Ajo Unified School District has been discontinued for this school year. AUSD will reassess the program for next year to determine if it will bring the spring sport back.

The primary reason given by school officials for the cancellation of track is a lack of participants. School athletic director Julia Tiell reported that only 3 athletes had signed up for the sport, according to school superintendent Dr. Robert Dooley.

Dooley explained that the decision to discontinue was based upon a policy the school board passed in March of last year that set minimum participation levels in all sports. He said the administration felt the track program would be "viable" with 15 participants but could go as low as 10. He added that practice for spring sports begins in a month, and the deadline for schools to report to the AIA regarding which sports they will be playing is "rapidly approaching."

Spring sports normally include baseball, softball, track & field, and golf. Dooley noted that smaller schools are sometimes challenged to find enough athletes to fill all the programs. He said 32 students at AUSD have signed up for spring sports, which he said is "an extraordinarily high percentage of students" given the school's size.

"At this point the issue is not about money," said Dooley. "We basically could not even field a relay team."

Referring to the fundraiser involving the purchase of bricks to be personalized and displayed, Dooley noted "there are no bricks for track". He said the funds raised by all of the efforts went collectively toward all the sports programs.

"The phrase 'Keeping kids on track' was coined and used by the volunteer group, but [funds raised] were never meant to be just for track," he said. "We tried to tell people that initially."

Funds that were raised have been used over the past two years, according to Dooley, and some still remains. He said he felt there may have been a misinterpretation when a prior athletic director was heard to say that the addition of junior high sports such as football and volleyball would cost about the same as the track program, and some thought that meant track was being eliminated to allow for junior high sports.

"But that's simply not the case," he said. "Frankly, we couldn't run junior high sports without the donations." He cited an example of buying basketball shoes for all the players last year.

School board member Rose Cameron has been instrumental in the creation of and the continued efforts of Keeping Kids on Track. She said the discontinuation of track had to occur.

"There are lots of cuts that have to be made," she said. "No one is happy with any of the cuts. But if the kids really wanted track, why didn't they sign up for it? Only three did. How can you justify the expense? It's a no-brainer. Those critical of the school saw [the donation drive] as pertaining only to track."

She reiterated that the donation drive continues, explaining that the phrase Keeping Kids on Track meant "on track to graduate, to do their homework, etc."

Referring to the failed vote for a school budget override, Cameron said, "Our voters didn't think. They didn't realize how many kids they're going to hurt. When you shortchange the kids, you shortchange our future. Where are you going to get our future doctors and [other vital professions]?"

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Original Publication Date: January 27, 2015

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