High school sports have been an undeniable part of the fabric of this community.
While that fabric remains untorn, it’s often stretched to the very limit by the challenges it faces today.
Front and center among those challenges is keeping extracurricular activities — especially interscholastic athletics — up and running.
Goshen athletic director Larry Kissinger said school officials have been working on creative solutions to raise more money for the department.
“The tax cap is killing capital improvement,” Kissinger said.
That means school districts are having to make do with less money across the board, Kissinger said.
In Indiana, property taxes are capped at a maximum of 1 percent of value for residential, 2 percent of value for rental and farmland, and 3 percent of value for all other types of property.
With an annual athletic budget of about $300,000, Kissinger said one of the biggest challenges in recent years has been dealing with rising transportation costs.
Those costs, Kissinger said, have nearly tripled in recent years, from approximately $8,000 to $10,000 a year five years ago to nearly $24,000 a year in 2013-14.
Kissinger said school officials take pride in the fact they are able to provide athletic opportunities for students without having to charge activity fees, or so-called “pay to play,” a fact of life for prep athletes at other schools.
In some cases athletes are even expected to buy their own practice gear.
Goshen has been able to avoid that kind of fee, which Kissinger said would be a burden for many families, by getting creative with fundraisers inside the department. Individual sports have their own fundraisers, with the money going to help supplement the department’s budget.
Despite funding struggles, Goshen’s athletic programs saw increased participation this year for the fourth year in a row. A total of 558 different student-athletes participated on a GHS athletic team this year, up 18 from last year. There was one four-sport athlete; 44 three-sport athletes; 172 two-sport athletes; and 341 single-sport athletes.
Goshen boys basketball coach Brian Bechtel is completing his 15th season guiding the program.
Bechtel said that in recent years school officials have done some things to try and level the playing field, so to speak, with other local schools in terms of athletic ability.
One of those things that is bearing fruit, Bechtel said, is the sports performance program. Running in the summer and also at other times during the school year, the program focuses not on fundamentals or Xs and Os, but instead on developing athletes’ natural abilities, honing them and working to maximize skills, including speed and jumping ability.
Bechtel said the program, which has been in existence for three years, has made a difference in his basketball program.
“We’ve got the most athletic team we’ve ever had this season,” Bechtel said.
And Bechtel’s hoops program, as part of the Goshen athletic program, is dealing with the same budgetary struggles.
“The tax cap has really decimated public education in Indiana financially,” Bechtel said.
Echoing Kissinger, Bechtel said Goshen Community Schools has done a good job in shielding student-athletes from some of the pay-to-play fees that other schools have been forced to implement. And the program does its best to increase participation in summer camps and clinics, Bechtel said, by offering half-price registration for lower-income students.
While other urban school districts have been dinged by evolving open enrollment policies allowing students to transfer to other schools, Bechtel said he doesn’t see that as an issue at Goshen.
“Academically, we are as good as any other school in the area,” Bechtel said. “But because of our demographics, our test scores aren’t going to show that.”
Nevertheless, Bechtel said, Goshen’s diversity is a strength.
“I want my children to grow up in a diverse culture,” Bechtel said. “And I’m a better teacher because I teach in a diverse culture.”
Meanwhile at Concord, athletic director Dave Preheim said his district is dealing with some of the same kinds of issues.
The Minutemen have had an athletic activity fee for at least the past 15 years, Preheim said, but that fee has been $20 for at least the last 10 years. That fee is the same no matter how many sports an athlete plays, Preheim said.
Concord officials are also dealing with increased transportation costs, Preheim said, and one way district officials are trying to save costs there is by making sure buses are full. That means where perhaps in the past a team and the cheerleaders may have ridden to an event in separate buses, nowadays they will most likely ride together.
Smaller athletic teams, Preheim said, are riding to events in the district’s smaller activity buses. These buses are driven by coaches, which also saves money because one of the district’s bus drivers isn’t needed.
The key to persevering through tough budgetary times, Preheim said, lies in a supportive community.
“We have that at Concord,” Preheim said. “....We’re trying to provide as many opportunities for as many students as possible, and I feel like the support we get means that the taxpayers feel their money is being spent wisely.”