Danville Schools could overhaul youth sports programs

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Danville Board of Education is interested in a possible reorganization for its youth sports teams, including potentially increased funding.

Youth sports are athletic teams organized at the elementary level. They can be beneficial for children’s development and they serve as “feeder programs” for the same sports at the middle- and high-school levels by developing students’ athletic abilities earlier, school officials said Tuesday night during a working board meeting.

Currently, the Danville Independent School District offers elementary students football, wrestling, and cheer programs, said Lisa Fisher, the district-wide athletic director. There’s also interest in starting a track and cross country program, she said.

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However, “at this time, there’s not really anyone in our district that’s assigned to oversee youth sports,” Fisher said. “… I have several concerns that surround youth programs or the youth sports that we have going on.”

The school district doesn’t have policies in place for who is running youth sports; nor is there a formalized way the district ensures that athletic equipment like football helmets are kept up-to-date and safe, she said.

Not that those things aren’t happening — coaches from higher up, like Danville football coach Clay Clevenger, spend time helping out and ensuring youth sports groups have what they need.

“It’s not run like the wild, wild west and it’s not run perfect,” Clevenger told board members.

The district also needs better processes for conducting background checks on coaches at the elementary level, and to develop a travel policy for youth sports, Fisher said.

Superintendent Tammy McDonald said the district doesn’t currently offer stipends for any coaches at the elementary level and the youth sports program is “kind of haphazardly” run, with people like Clevenger stepping in to help because they want students to have good athletics programs.

McDonald said there is “a lot of liability as the system is laid out.”

Options available to the board include creating a new position designated to manage the district’s youth sports programs; adding stipends for youth sports coaches; and even breaking off the youth sports program to operate as its own standalone nonprofit organization.

Fisher said she investigated what surrounding districts are doing and Boyle, Jessamine, Garrard and Mercer counties all have youth sports programs that operate separately, even independently of the school system.

Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation does offer some youth sports options, but Clevenger said Parks & Rec “has made it clear to us they don’t want any part of youth football anymore.”

McDonald said Danville is the only area school district she knows of that runs youth sports programs from within the school district structure.

Growing the program within the district could mean expanding it to include many more, even all the sports offered at the high-school level, she said.

“This would not be a cheap endeavor,” McDonald said. “… For it to be managed properly so we’re sure our students are being kept safe,” the district would need to pay someone to supervise and manage the programs and for coach stipends.

Board member Lori Finke said if the district could give whatever money it wanted to spend on youth sports to a nonprofit created to run the programs separately, it might allow the money to be spent more efficiently, by avoiding the red tape and many rules the school district has to follow when spending money.

Clevenger said starting a nonprofit is the “cleanest” way to run youth sports outside of the school district, but it also creates concern about the cost of liability insurance. When the programs are run within the district, they can be covered by the district’s insurance; an independent program would have to acquire its own liability insurance, which could drive up enrollment costs for students, he explained.

“We need numbers,” board Chair Steve Becker said. “… We have a lot of scenarios that we need to look at.”

Becker said it’s clear students are getting “great stuff” from youth sports right now, but “also, we’re sort of piecemealing it.”

Board member Paul Smiley said he would be in favor of funding youth sports inside the district.

“Children need things to do and if they find something they can do and they can do it well, that has spillover into the rest of their lives,” he said. “In terms of paying for it, I think the board should find a way.”

The board could not take any action during Tuesday’s working session; it asked Fisher to come back at a later date with a list of potential costs for changes to the youth sports programs.

McDonald said the board will need to make a decision on changing things one way or another, because “as it is currently, there is a liability issue.”