Dirigo varsity boys’ basketball coach Travis Magnusson talks to his team during a time out at a recent home game. Magnusson had to cut some potential players and change the team’s schedule after Dirigo’s budget cut out JV sports.

After losing his junior varsity team to budget cuts, Dirigo High School varsity baseball coach Ryan Palmer is prepared to raise money to fund a JV team for his program next season.

On Tuesday night, Palmer will go before the Regional School Unit 56 school board to ask for its permission to fund the team through private fundraising.

Last June, RSU 56 voters approved a $13.2 million budget after the board made several major cuts, including $17,090 to fund junior varsity teams for the high school and middle school. 

“It is hurting programs,” said Palmer, who noted his ed tech position was also among the cuts.

Palmer is confident he can raise enough money from local businesses and citizens to fund a JV baseball team and JV coach for about a half-dozen games, which he estimated would require $4,000 to $4,500. Efforts to find any district or Maine Principals’ Association rules that would prevent him from raising the money and fielding a team for Dirigo have come up empty.

“I talked with the (teachers) union, met with the superintendent and did some research on my own,” he said. “There was nothing that I saw saying a team can’t be funded through a grant or donation.”

Numbers are strong in the baseball program. Palmer said he had 26 players for varsity and JV last year, and expects most of those to return, along with at least eight freshmen who have expressed interest in playing in the spring.

Beyond wanting to give everyone an opportunity to play, Palmer is concerned about the long-term impact on his and other Dirigo programs. Coaches in many sports are already battling a decline in numbers and don’t want another disincentive for potential players, he said.

“When you take JV sports away, it’s going to make it even worse,” he said. “Some kids on the varsity team aren’t going to play, so a kid has to be thinking, ‘Why would I go and work my butt off in practice every day to sit on the bench?”

Field hockey was the only fall sports team that had enough students to fill a JV team, according to Palmer. This winter, only boys’ basketball had to make roster cuts because it couldn’t have a second team. But coaches  are concerned about what will happen in seasons to come.

Boys’ varsity coach Travis Magnusson said he expected to have up to 30 boys try out for basketball based on participation in the summer program. The lack of a JV team discouraged some from attending tryouts in November, but Magnusson still had to cut a half-dozen potential players to reach his current varsity roster of 14 players.

“It affects our future,” Magnusson said. “This year, it affected us a little bit because I didn’t scrimmage as much just because I wanted to save some varsity dates for these younger kids to play.”

Magnusson said he hopes funding for JV teams returns next year. In the meantime, younger players who would have gotten playing experience with a JV team will usually stay on the bench during games.

“It put the freshmen in a tough position,” he said, “but they also can get a lot better from practicing with us, which they’re doing. But that’s who I feel for, the kids that don’t get many minutes.” 

The school board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School.

Dirigo athletic director Jeff Turnbull could not be reached for comment.

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