PORTLAND – I write in reaction to your coverage of the Portland Pirates hockey game Tuesday.

Apparently, for that particular game, they started at 11 a.m. instead of their usual evening faceoff.

An estimated 3,600 schoolchildren — some from as far away as Sanford, Madison and the Camden area — were bused to the Civic Center for this event.

Undoubtedly, at least another 500 or so teachers, aides, chaperones and administrators went along as well.

The whole promotion, according to the Pirates publicity releases, was framed as a sort of public service, a way “to encourage students to eat healthy, stay active and educated.”

Now, I applaud the Pirates for their concern about childhood obesity. Thus, I’m a bit hesitant to criticize them for attempting to do something about that serious issue.

Yet, with just a bit of reflection, it appears to me that there are so many things wrong with how this particular promotion was done that I hardly know where to begin or what objections to leave out.

So, I’ll simply start with what seems to be the most obvious, if not the most serious, dilemma.

The Civic Center hardly seems an appropriate setting in which to promote good eating habits or study skills. Its best-selling items sometimes are warm beer and cold hot dogs.

Then, too, the number of fights and ejections that accompanied this particular game merely add to my puzzlement. We want to discourage fights and rule-breaking in the schools, don’t we?

So, why take a day off from class and bus kids to witness exactly the kind of behavior that they are told not to exhibit in school?

But, here’s what confuses me most: There were probably two dozen different schools represented. Didn’t even one principal, superintendent or teacher ever stop to question the value or appropriateness of this outing?

Surely, I can’t be the only one who wonders why several thousand students and teachers would use up an entire school day watching a hockey game.

Had I read about a visit to the nearby Gulf of Maine Research Institute or Southworth Planetarium, I would not be writing this letter.

Had kids been bused to Orono, at even twice the time and expense, to visit the University of Maine’s huge telescope (one of the state’s hidden treasures) or to visit its composites technology program and learn what they need to know to become employable 10 years from now, I would not object.

But, with all the talk about budget cuts, if the fat has been eliminated — as we’re so often told — where is there room for this kind of trip?

If there’s an overabundance of material to be taught and not enough hours to teach it, how can this make sense?

The Pirates, in their defense, are quick to explain that they picked up all the costs involved “except for transportation.”

However, it seems to me that, when a child is off somewhere watching a hockey game during school hours, the costs to educate him for that particular day don’t somehow simply disappear because someone else supplies his food and water.

The money already budgeted still gets spent — and then some.

You see, “sponsors” of these events usually do not figure in “hidden” costs such as a teacher’s salary and benefits.

Even worse, the school may also have to hire a substitute to fill in for the absent teacher’s other classes, thus adding even more “hidden” — but only too real — expense.

Department of Education numbers say that it cost at least $60 a day to educate a child in the Portland school system last year ($10,604 divided by 175 days of school).

So, the way I see it, this hockey game cost Maine taxpayers more than $210,000.

That money could have purchased a lot of new textbooks or computers.

It also may have allowed us to hire or keep employed four or five teachers.

It might have been used to lower our future tax burden.

Instead, it got used to teach the rules of hockey — leaving aside the question of how central fighting is to the sport.

The rules of grammar, it seems, which would serve the students better in the long run, are found to be less important, at least on this day.

Those who agree might wish to call their local school departments and tell them to put an end to this nonsense.

– Special to The Press Herald