In 10 years without league sports at Canby middle school, high school athletics hope for change

FILE PHOTO - Canby High School logo Canby — In 2008, the nation was in the midst of an economic crisis and school budgets were being cut across the country. The crisis touched Canby, and in the crunch, schools were forced to slash funding in order to not go over budget. One of those casualties was middle school sports programs.

In 10 years since the middle school programs were cut, Canby has slowly seen its success over the years at the high school level dwindle. There have been pockets of brilliance, but Canby High is experiencing competitive struggles in ways it hadn't previously.

When athletic director Mark Martens came to Canby from Tigard as the new AD, he had experience making decisions similar to those that Canby had to make in 2008. Martens had been tasked with planning out cuts in the Tigard-Tualatin school district. Once in Canby, Martens met with Canby superintendent Trip Goodall. Goodall and Martens discussed what bringing back middle school athletics could do for the community, but for the most part it was put on the backburner. Until recently.

"Last spring, I put it out and said, 'I'm just starting a draft of what this could look like,'" Martens said. "Just to start the conversation. I've been working with Trip, Jennifer Turner, and Skyler Rodolph, who are the two middle school principals, because they have the history and what could work in their school and what that could look like."

Martens also reached out to the head coaches of several Canby High School sports teams. Wrestling coach Jeremy Ensrud, football coach Mike Vaught, and others were tapped to see about the plausibility and structure of bringing back middle school sports.

"I had asked all of the head coaches and let them know that what I was looking to do was a middle school proposal," Martens said. "I asked all the head coaches, 'Give me a sense of what it used to be and we can look at, if we're creating something, do we want to create something new or what we used to have.' Vaught and Ensrud were key components in that because they were integral to what was here before."

Part of wanting to bring back the middle school sports program was helping Canby sports teams get a steady influx of experienced athletes. While there is an intramural track and field team, and intramural sports are an option that has been discussed at the middle school level, Ensrud wants to have middle school sports associated specifically with the school district.

"It's all those schools in Three Rivers League," Ensrud said. "Oregon City, West Linn, so on. That middle school team, that program, gets to compete against those teams. They get that same feeling they're going to get when they get to high school. Here are the same teams, the kids, the players that they're competing against. They get to feel that camaraderie and be a part of the team, the Canby team. They're not competing against each other, they're competing with each other."

There is intramural track and field for Canby middle school students, but the other sports at this point are being supplemented by area club sports. Canby Kids and Canby Wrestling both house competitors at the middle school level, but neither are linked with the school district.

One reason that middle school sports were cut from the budget in 2008 was that there were club sports in the area to take up the slacks, according to Ensrud. But he, and Martens, both believe that there are students who are unable to participate in said club sports.

"I think the big word that the district uses is equity," Ensrud said. "Equal access to all students. There's a lot of kids that can't afford to pay the club sports cost. Some of them are outrageous. They can't do it, so they're not going to get the opportunity to try out or participate."

"It's not a competition with Canby Kids, I view it as something a good percent of our population can't access," Martens said. "If you talk about a club soccer team, for $800 a season. How many families can truly support that out of their budget? Not very many. I think we're missing kids and missing giving kids a lot of opportunities."

It comes back to making sure that kids across all levels have access to a full array of sports, Ensrud and Martens say. Another thing to take into consideration is how much it would cost to bring the programs back. While it is not on the docket for this year's budget, an estimate was given to the Herald to bring intramural volleyball and basketball as well as league track and field and cross country would be around $70,000, despite Ensrud's preference for league activities.

"At this time, we do not have funds budgeted for next year to bring back middle school sports, although it is a priority if funding should become available," Canby School District Communications Director Autumn Foster said.

Should the funds become available for those sports and others in the future, Martens and Ensrud believe that sports and activities for the kids are a good thing in general.

"It's not just about being more successful, but it's also about getting more kids involved," Ensrud said. "There are tons of studies that show that kids that are involved in extracurricular activities are going to show up to school more because it's part of a requirement to be in that activity. They get better grades."

"Knowing you're helped kids out, that's just what we need to do with sports," Ensrud added. "Provide opportunities for kids, get them excited about sports and school, and keep them involved, and keep them out of trouble."

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