Some of the Windham Middle School soccer team members talk about the benefits of being involved in the school’s restored sports program, (L-R). seventh-grader Mario Rangel, fifth-grader Jaden Calixto, fifth-grader Ellis Phillips, sixth-grader Kayden Parrilla and eighth-grader George Sfakios. Photo by Al Malpa
For the past three years, the field behind Windham Middle School was quiet on fall and spring days after school.
With pressing classroom needs and the desire to raise student achievement, funding for after-school athletics was a regular budget casualty and middle school student-athletes found themselves with no place to go.
That is, until this year.
Thanks to some donations, town/school budget funding and booster club work, sports returned to the middle school this year, with fifth- through eighth-graders participating in two sports this fall – boys and girls soccer and boys and girls cross country.
On Tuesday (Oct. 25), a team of 25 middle school boys warmed up on the field behind the school, getting ready to take on neighboring Coventry in a soccer showdown.
But for many, the return of sports has brought pride in the school along with out-of-classroom lessons in teamwork, competition and discipline.
“It’s so great,” said Mario Rangel, a seventhgrader, “We can have fun and be with our friends.”
Even though he has fun on the field, Rangel said he still keeps the focus on the classroom, so he can play. “School’s first,” he said. “Grades are first.”
Rangel said he and his teammates know getting in trouble at school can put their team status in jeopardy, so they avoid getting in trouble.
Others also missed sports. Kayden Parrilla, a sixth-grader, said, without sports, he would practice soccer at home, but playing for the school is “a lot better.”
George Sfakios, an eighth- grader, has endured his middle school years without sports, but welcomed the return this fall. Now he has something to do after school with other students. “It brings us together more,” he said.
Sheryl Fraser, the middle school physical education teacher and middle school girls soccer coach, was the activities coordinator when middle school sports was cut. She said she’s noticed a difference in the student-athletes. “There’s a pride in the kids,” Fraser said.
She noted that sports serves as a motivator for students to make good decisions throughout their day and to learn to show “respect, responsibility and pride.”
Fraser mentioned that Tolland has a “pay-forplay” system, in which families shell out as much as $260 per child to play.
“We’re really lucky,” she said.
She estimates there’s 70 to 75 students involved in sports this fall, but more had gone out for the team during the schools tryout period.
As for whether athletic offerings can continue, Fraser said they are taking it one step at a time.
Athletic offerings at the middle school currently are a one-year commitment, with no guarantees for the following school year.
The total cost to restore sports was about $40,000, with $20,000 approved by voters as part of the town’s recreation budget, while a donation from local benefactor Mary Lou DeVivo offset part of the costs, according to education officials.
The amount of the private donation hasn’t been disclosed, but the town’s board of education’s share is roughly between $5,000 and $10,000, according to education officials.
In the meantime, the middle school booster club has been working on fund-raising for the athletic programs for uniforms, officials and equipment.
Jaime Valentin, the middle school boys soccer coach, said 62 middle school boys came out for the soccer team and the team kept 25.
“I think a lot of them really missed it,” Valentin said of the return of middle school sports. “They really do have a lot of pride playing for their school.”
He said many of his players have made school a priority and are learning lessons in hard work and taking pride in their achievements in the classroom and on the field.
Miguel Villalobos, a parent of a middle school boys soccer player, said “when we found out sports were coming back, we were very happy about that.” His son – Leonardo Melchor – has played soccer for a few years and enjoys it.
“He’s very happy he’s playing for the school team,” Villalobos said. “This is always a good thing for the kids.”
Windham Middle School Principal Madeline Negron said,”I will tell you the building has a different feel this year.” She said sports fosters building school community and pride.
Negron said the school’s student council raised $2,300 and was able to donate that money this year to help bring back the programs.
The current plan this year is to offer wrestling and boys/ girls basketball in the winter months, while spring sports will include baseball, softball and boys/girls track and field.
However, the middle school booster club is seeking donations to make this happen.
Those interested in donating can make checks out to “Windham Middle School Booster Club” and can send them c/o Neida Rosado, Windham Middle School Booster Club Treasurer, P.O. Box 710, Willimantic, CT 06226.
Posted Oct. 27, 2011 as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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