The district funding may have dried up, but Ashland Middle School will still have an after-school sports program next academic year, Principal Steve Retzlaff said Friday.

The district funding may have dried up, but Ashland Middle School still will have an after-school sports program next academic year, Principal Steve Retzlaff said Friday.

Community members are rallying to provide an alternative athletics program after Superintendent Juli Di Chiro announced the district would eliminate all funding for middle school sports to help close its $1.15 million budget gap.

"Our main concern is to make sure there are opportunities for students to participate in athletic programs after school at the middle school next year," Retzlaff said. "Historically, the middle school has always had a 'no-cut' policy and that's huge to us, to make sure that everyone can participate."

Retzlaff expects the middle school to provide all of the same sports next academic year, except for wrestling, because no one has volunteered to run that program. Practices will take place immediately after school, on campus, he said.

All of the sports will charge fees to play, but scholarships will be available for low-income students so that everyone can participate, Retzlaff said.

Almost 50 percent of the school's 540 students are involved in after-school sports this academic year, he said.

Cutting funding for the sports program will save the district about $110,000.

"Unfortunately, the cuts that are being made now aren't good educational decisions, we all agree," Retzlaff said. "This is all about where we are financially. Nobody here would say that these cuts are a good thing."

A group of parents is working to form a booster club that will hold fundraisers for the athletics programs. The club also would like to raise enough money to pay a few middle school teachers who serve as sports coaches to help organize the sports programs, Retzlaff said.

The Ashland Family YMCA has expressed interest in running basketball, volleyball, track and cross-country programs. Pop Warner Football and Ashland Soccer Club have said they also would like to create teams at the middle school.

Southern Oregon University basketball coach Brian McDermott wants to have his team teach an eight-week basketball camp at the middle school. Ashland High School teacher John Weston, an Ashland Soccer Club coach, has said he would also like to offer an 8-week volleyball camp for students.

Ashland High School's leadership team has expressed interest in helping out with the after-school sports programs at the middle school, Retzlaff said.

Hannah Ewing and Yeruti Estigarribia, the student representatives to the School Board, told Di Chiro they would meet with Retzlaff to offer their help.

"Being an athlete has been very important to me," Ewing told the board earlier this month. "I think when you cut this, you're going to cut something really important to kids, because if I wasn't at the middle school doing sports, who knows what I'd be doing now."

Sports can help teens stay healthy and out of trouble, while teaching them teamwork and organization, said Ken Kigel, assistant principal at the middle school.

"Sports keep them engaged, keep them active, and they learn how to work together," he said. "They learn skills that are useful in life, not just athletically."

Details of the sports offerings still are being determined, Retzlaff said. Anyone who would like to help coach students or help raise money for the programs can email Retzlaff at steve.retzlaff@ashland.k12.or.us or Kigel at ken.kigel@ashland.k12.or.us.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.