Ashland boosters hit home run for sports programs

ASHLAND — Fundraising by supporters of after-school sports at Ashland Middle School should produce enough money to keep the sports teams on the fields and courts, boosters said during a special School Board work session Monday.

About 40 attended the hourlong meeting, in which middle school Principal Steve Rezlaff presented a proposal to the board outlining a financial plan that would allow the sports programs to continue. The proposal would have the district provide an estimated $35,000 and cover travel expenses, while the AMS Booster Club would provide at least $20,000. The booster club was established in late May to address the cuts made to the sports programs at AMS.

Although the booster club doesn't expect to the have the full $20,000 by the beginning of next academic year, it should have enough money to fund fall sports programs, and continue fundraising throughout the school year to come up with the rest of its contribution, said Jeff Risner of Ashland, who is a member of the booster club and a contributor to the proposal.

"We've already had such a strong response from the community," Risner said. "I kind of think that we will blow through this target, which will be great."

The AMS Booster Club has raised more than $4,000 since it was established and has commitments from many other people in the community, Risner said.

Initially, the board decided to eliminate funding from the sports programs at AMS because other school districts around the Rogue Valley had similar discussions regarding middle school sports. That led to a concern over a lack of competition for AMS teams. Now, other districts, including Medford, have indicated they will still provide some level of middle school sports.

"That situation has changed, so that's what has brought us together tonight," said Ashland School District Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. "It became very clear that there was going to be a much more robust middle school sports program in the valley than we initially anticipated "… . I'm sorry the school year has come to an end without having any closure on this particular subject."

Last year the school district committed $100,000 to fund sports at the middle school, but Rezlaff said by reducing the number of stipends paid to coaches from 24 to 12, the district could fund the programs with $60,000 or less.

If funding for sports at the school is approved by the board, AMS would join 10 other middle schools from around the region in the Southern Oregon Middle School Athletics Conference, which will include football, volleyball, wrestling, boys and girls basketball, cross country and track and field.

Kevin Flynn, 46, of Ashland, who has two sons in the district — one at AMS and another at Ashland High School — said eliminating sports programs at AMS would be a disappointment to his entire family.

"The reason my wife and I moved here was because of the schools, and we stay here because of the school," he said. "But cuts like these can make families think about finding another place for their kids."

The School Board is expected to vote on whether to re-establish funding for middle school sports during its next meeting on Monday, July 11.

"I'm feeling good vibes," said Risner after Monday's meeting. "But we'll see how it goes on the 11th "… It would seem almost criminal to not fund them at that cost."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at or 541-499-1470.

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