Forget about Presidential Debate #3: Last night’s Wellesley High School and Middle School Athletic Program review was this week’s real Must See TV on Wellesley Public Media. Or better yet, this was an event to witness in person, as did a standing-room-only crowd that packed the School Committee meeting at Town Hall on an unseasonably warm Tuesday night. (School Superintendent David Lussier only half joked that the masses are welcome to attend School Committee meetings on a regular basis, now that you know where to find them.)
While I only caught part of session, listening to it while in the car and then running around the house, I heard and saw enough to know that this first comprehensive review of the town’s public school sports program in 10 years was not for the faint of heart (you should be able to catch an on-demand edition of the meeting at Wellesley Public Media soon in case you missed the live version).
Results of a survey filled out earlier this year by parents, students and coaches were shared and are now online (nice job getting this stuff up online so quickly!). The review took those results into consideration, along with feedback from individual interviews, focus groups and comparisons to other communities’ programs.
Some of the results, presented by Asst. Superintendent Judy Belliveau and WHS Principal Jamie Chisum, weren’t pretty:
*Only in 1 in 5 respondents had anything decent to say about the athletic department and Schedule Star websites — just one issue that pointed to a need for improved communications between the program and parents/athletes.
*Only 1 in 10 respondents was satisfied with the level of transparency in terms of how athletic fees are divvied up and used.
*Only 1 in five respondents was happy with the give-and-take with coaches, in terms of feedback and receptiveness to feedback.
*Only about a third of respondents believe Wellesley has good enough sports facilities for all teams; the lack of an indoor track was cited.
*Questions arose about fairness of resources distributed among girls and boys teams.
Athletic Director John Brown acknowledged that it wasn’t comfortable seeing the results of the review, though to his credit, he gave a statement in which he pledged his devotion to the program and vowed to improve in areas of concern that were brought to light. A couple of Brown’s current/former colleagues spoke in his defense during the citizen’s speak at the end of the session, pointing out accolades that have been bestowed upon Brown and the program as a whole. It was noted that Brown is a visible presence at many Wellesley sports events despite having student-athletes in his own family to support.
There’s no denying the success of the sports program in terms of overall student participation, which consistently is among the best in the state at the high school and middle school level. On the field, WHS sports teams have excelled as well, with several programs even boasting of undefeated seasons to this point in the year. The new track and field are about to have their grand opening, and the Wellesley Sports Center planned for Rte. 9 should be a boon for hockey/swimming/diving teams.
The official review highlighted these positive aspects as well. The survey showed that about two thirds of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that coaches know what they’re doing and encourage good sportsmanship. The athletic secretary and trainer were lauded, and an improved online registration process has earned respect. Survey respondents’ answers also indicated appreciation for the range of sports teams and opportunities (such as “no cut” teams) as well as the transportation provided to away meets/games (though concerns have been raised about certain events/practices where students are doing the driving). The booster programs were hailed for their support, though work needs to be done to make their operations more consistent.
The School Committee said it would like to see a progress report from the athletic department by the end of the year, as the program looks to head into 2017 with a fresh vision. A standing advisory committee is being formed to keep things on track in what truly could be termed a team effort.