Portland public schools is considering combining golf, swimming and indoor track teams at Deering and Portland high schools next year.

The move follows declines in both high school enrollment and participation in those sports and comes as cooperative sports teams, comprised of students from multiple schools or districts, are becoming more common statewide.

“This is a strategy to continue to maintain programs when participation has kind of fallen to a level where (schools) may not be able to maintain a program on their own,” said Portland Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Aaron Townsend. “The goal of co-ops is to continue to maximize opportunities for kids to participate.”

The city school board is expected to take up the proposal as a discussion item Tuesday, and also to discuss coming up with a process for approving future cooperative athletic teams.

The percentage of cooperative teams statewide varies by sport. Almost 50 percent of the teams in some sports, such as hockey, are cooperative teams, according to Mike Burnham, executive director of the interscholastic division of the Maine Principals’ Association, which promotes and administers interscholastic activities, including sports.

“I think the number of cooperative teams over the last 10 years has increased dramatically,” Burnham said. “In some cases it may be because of declining enrollments and fewer athletes and participants. In other cases, it’s there to give opportunities for kids that wouldn’t otherwise have that opportunity.”

John LaFond, golf coach at Portland High School, said he is happy the board is considering the move. Deering High School had too few interested students to form a golf team last year – a team representing both schools would give more students the chance to compete, he said.

“I’m really excited about it,” LaFond said. “I think it will be a really positive thing for the kids in the community and for golf in the community because the future of golf in the city of Portland is in the junior players coming up through the ranks.”

Combining swimming, golf and indoor track teams at Portland and Deering high schools would create a total savings of around $43,000 a year, although saving money is not the motivating factor behind the proposal, Townsend said.

High school enrollment in Portland schools is currently around 2,050 students, down from 2,239 in 2010, according to materials to be presented to the board Tuesday. Twenty-nine percent of students participate in fall sports; 23 percent in winter sports and 21 percent in spring sports.

The board is also expected to discuss Tuesday night whether spring sports coaches will be paid stipends given their seasons were canceled, and a proposal in the 2020-2021 budget that calls for a two percent, or $40,000, reduction across the district’s athletics and co-curricular budget.


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