I know how the late Larry Hawkins would have reacted to Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman's announcement that there will be no more funding for non-varsity sports in the wake of the "fiscal crisis" that city schools are facing.
Hawkins, who coached Cazzie Russell and produced a state championship basketball team at Carver in 1963, was so much more than a coach. He was a teacher and educator and administrator, the director of the University of Chicago's Office of Special Programs and founder of the Institute for Athletics and Education.
He mentored dozens of Public League coaches and teachers and helped to send hundreds of athletes and just-plain-students to college.
Early on, Hawkins came to the realization that kids could use sports to achieve a better life. He was the first educator I ever heard who argued that sports was a very important part of the educational process. Later, others picked up his lead.
"I saw clearly what happened around sports, how it energized the school and kids and parents and the whole community," he once said. "You had to get the attention of hard-to-reach kids so you could counsel them. You have to start with the kids where they are so you can understand where you want to take them."
Larry is gone now. And his voice is missed. On March 29, Huberman is expected to reveal a CPS budget for 2010-11 that will call for $700 million in cuts, including 3,200 teachers and all non-varsity sports.
According to Huberman, it will be a "collective sacrifice" caused by decreased tax dollars, reduction in state funding and ballooning pension payments, all a result of the sharp downturn in the economy. School districts across Illinois and across the country are feeling the pinch, some more than others.
But no other school district has announced that its interscholastic sports programs will be devastated to the point where freshmen and sophomores won't have anything to do. Only funding for varsity teams means no frosh-soph programs, no feeder systems, no developmental programs.
It also means, as Hawkins once said, that many kids won't have a reason to go to school, to get an education. They will simply drop out. Admit it or not, Hawkins used to say, some kids only go to school so they can participate in sports. And sports teaches them discipline and dedication and leadership and other valuable traits.
"What's the purpose of having athletics if you don't have any feeder programs?" one CPS athletic director said in reaction to Huberman's bleak edict.
"We might as well eliminate athletics altogether," another CPS administrator said.
With only funding available for varsity sports, school officials would have to decide what to do with freshman and sophomore levels. Will they continue to be fielded and, if so, how? Can freshmen compete on the varsity level, especially in football?
Hopefully, in Hawkins' absence, some voices of reason and influence will step up to make Huberman and other CPS officials realize the importance of sports to the overall educational process.