RUMFORD – Students who want to play junior varsity soccer, baseball or softball at Mountain Valley Middle School this year will have a chance to do so, the school board decided Monday night.

After a nearly hourlong discussion on the school budget, academics and sports programs, the board voted 8-3 to reinstate the coaching positions. The approximately $4,600 needed to pay the coaching stipends had already been added to the adopted 2008-09 operating budget.

Nearly 30 parents of middle school students turned out to make the case for the need to offer the sports programs, with Sue Adley serving as spokeswoman.

“This affects so many children. All athletics should be treated equally,” she said, adding that physical exercise is important in preventing obesity and encouraging better grades and social skills.

While Rick Greene agreed that the middle school sports programs were important for students, he pointed out that 11 teaching positions, including a middle school guidance counselor position, a transitional grade one program, and other cuts were made during the budget development process.

“Over $700,000 in cuts were made, and only $6,000 from athletics,” he said. “These cuts may extend even further next year. I want you back when the next budget is developed.”

Rumford board member David McKivergan said he had supported cutting the coaching stipends originally to spread the cuts equally. But he changed his mind.

“But, in the grand scheme of things, $4,000 is pocket change. The middle school is the fifth healthiest in the country. Look at the impact on kids. In the end, the kids benefit,” he said.

Mexico representative Betty Barrett said she voted against the original budget in the belief that more cuts should have been made. She voted against restoring the coaching positions. Mexico representative Liz Jorgensen and Byron board member Anne Simmons-Edmunds voted with her.

“This has always been a big sports area. The present budget is way too expensive. People are going to go cold and hungry this winter,” Barrett said, suggesting that a form of activity fee be assessed for each student.

That, or some other pay-to-participate program may be in the offing next year.

“My suggestion would be to form an ad hoc committee to look into pay-to-participate,” Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said.

After a directive from the board’s last meeting, athletic director John Bernard reported his findings from discussing such a program with several nearby school districts. Among the findings were difficulty in collecting fees and varying amounts of fees contingent upon the level of play.

He recommended reinstating the coaching positions, adding that he believes a sufficient number of middle school students would go out for the sports.

“I also agree with Rick Greene. We need this kind of support for all programs,” he said.

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