High School Football Returns After Tax-Issue Hiatus

Football and other fall sports are back at all four high schools in a suburban Columbus, Ohio, school district. A failed school levy last year resulted in an $8 million budget cut for South-Western City Schools - killing all sports and extracurricular activities. But when voters approved a 7.4-mill operating levy in November 2009, winter and spring sports, as well as other activities, were restored.

Because of the timing, schools went without football for a year - and the sport's return to the field Friday night was described as "deliriously joyful" by Columbus Dispatch reporter Michael Arace. Grove City opened its season by hosting defending Division I champion Hilliard Davidson in front of 12,000 fans, falling 28-21. But that didn't seem to put a damper on the celebration. "Friday night has always been very special here," George Edge, director of Grove City's marching band, told the paper. "People have always come out in droves, as if this were some mass exercise in civic pride for Grove City. Last year was like letting all the air out of a balloon."

That balloon is no longer deflated, but it isn't floating as high as it used to, either. District administrators, as part of the levy agreement, have been forced to charge $150 pay-to-play fees for all sports ($75 per sport in the middle schools) - among the highest in Franklin County. This, despite the fact that more than half of South-Western's students are considered economically disadvantaged. Students in marching band pay $100 each, and clubs such as National Honor Society or the student council charge $20 per activity.

While The Dispatch reports that roster numbers for most fall sports are up after a year's absence, Franklin Heights high school will not field a freshman football team, junior varsity soccer squad or cross country program because of low participation numbers. Meanwhile, football programs at Central Crossing and Westland high schools saw dramatic drops, with 38 fewer players at Central Crossing and 31 at Westland. (Band participation, on the other hand, is up at all four schools.) "I wish we didn't have to have pay-to-play fees, but it's what it took to pass a levy," school board member Cathy Johnson said. "It breaks my heart to know that at least one of our high schools isn't going to have a freshmen football team."

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