By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Leader & Times
Former Board of Education member and current USD No. 480 coach Cliff Abbott has a son who happens to be a freshman at Liberal High School. Very interested in athletics, Abbott’s son wishes to participate in P.E. II in order to obtain training that Abbott feels could be beneficial to his son’s future. However, currently, members of the freshman class are not permitted to enroll in P.E. II, which is considered an elective course.
“Thank you for continuing with the Physical Education II and the importance of that to our community and to our school,” Abbott said as he addressed the board during its regular Monday evening meeting. “Not only does it meet some elective requirements, but it has value for our student athletes.
“Going through it and doing the research, you find out a lot of things,” Abbott continued. “One of the things I did find out, just over last year alone more than 15 of our students received some kind of financial aid to go on to further their college experience through athletics and the involvement of P.E. II at USD 480. So, it is of tremendous value and that is just over one year. I encourage you to keep that for the importance to our community and to our students.”
Abbott felt it important to allow all high school students the opportunity to enroll in P.E. II, especially when the student portrays a considerable interest in pursuing athletics beyond his or her high school career.
Abbott’s son, who is a freshman at LHS, was enrolled in P.E. II during the first semester of his freshman year then removed from the class by administration due to his ineligibility to actually participate in the class. Abbott’s son was placed in a music elective. Abbott has been involved in meetings trying to resolve the issue since April of 2010, he said.
“I have outlined kind of where we went, how it started out,” Abbott said. “It started out in April and went to August. Then, our student was removed in the second week of class and placed in general music.
“It seems to be the consensus in a lot of those meetings that there was something that probably needed to be looked at, something that needed to be adjusted, that there needed to be some compromise to allow freshmen to have the opportunity not only to explore other avenues or other disciplines of electives, but athletics as well,” he explained.
He felt the board should allow freshman students to participate if they meet a specific requirement prior to enrollment in P.E. II.
“What I am asking for is that the ninth grade class have the opportunity to meet some type of criteria to participate or be a part of a very valuable part of their educational process,” Abbott said. “Not only educationally, but financially that may play a role into furthering their education post-high school graduation.
“There is the concensus to look at this for the fall, but my dilemma, and this is more selfish on my part, is that I would like to see something this semester either to have some criteria to be allowed to participate in that,” he added. “I have a son that is a freshman that could gain benefit by being a participant in this class.”
Board member Dan Diepenbrock simply told Abbott that he felt P.E. II was an embarrassment to the district and the class takes away from the focus of academic achievement.
“The one thing that I would like to say is that your implication is P.E. II is a valuable part of the educational process,” Diepenbrock said. “I think we should be going the other direction. I think P.E. II is an embarrassment to the district, frankly, and to expand it to the freshmen is just outrageous.
“Most athletes take weight lifting and P.E. II – two of their seven classes,” he continued. “With this, though, we are burning two credits a day with weight lifting and P.E. II.”
Abbott disagreed with Diepenbrock’s statement. Abbott believed it was important for his son to be able to pursue his interest – athletics.
“With all due respect, Mr. Diepenbrock, I disagree,” Abbott said. “I have had two sons that have gone through and met all of their requirements that the state requires – minimum requirements. By their senior year, they have come around to me, to their counselors, looking for other electives to participate in to what their interests are, and they are not there.”
Vice President Tammy Sutherland-Abbott said her son participated in P.E. II because it would help him prepare for his chosen career path.
“I think the key word that we might use that you are trying to make an example of is ‘elective,’” Sutherland-Abbott said. “In my home, we took both because my son had two reasons other than his interests in athletics, he wanted to stay healthy and physically fit for the career path that he chose. That is why it was important for him to stay in weights and to stay physically fit. That is what he chose for his electives. Other electives weren’t beneficial to him.”
Board member Dr. Jim Jury gave his opinion regarding the availability of P.E. II for freshman students. He believes the freshman year should be spent ensuring students are caught up academically, then during their sophomore year, they can focus on athletics – if their grades are where they need to be.
“Historically, I think that when we removed P.E. II the biggest issue we had was, statistically, we had a very high-risk population,” Jury said. “Our success rate for our freshman class is low. Granted we have students that do succeed and do well – and they should have the opportunity to select P.E. II as an elective. But, unfortunately, there are some abuses that are potentially associated with that and I think that in order to get that seventh hour to use for some of our math work and some of our reading activities for some of those kids that are behind and there are a majority of them, we had rearranged the schedule in order to be able to accommodate that and get kids more successful so we could actually move them into the 10th grade.
“Freshman people seem to have maturity issues, or at least they have shown it to be the case in the eighth grade, looking at the statistics,” he explained. “So, I have a lot of trouble figuring out exactly where to draw that line. Your son may be the perfect candidate, but I would wager that he is probably in the minority.
“I don’t have a problem with P.E. II being offered, where do you draw the line?” he asked. “If you draw it specifically at the freshman level, then at least we have corralled those folks and have offered opportunities for them to be more successful and possibly make it to 10th grade academically.”
The board opted to leave the P.E. II class unchanged as far as freshman being ineligible for enrollment. However, Diepenbrock suggested it possibly be available before the start of the official school day. That possibility, the board agreed, would not be explored during the current school year due to the fact that the schedule and calendars have already been approved for the year.