In order to make the Wood River High School soccer team, you must show up several weeks before classes begin. On your first day, you must be able to run 2 miles in under 12 minutes—before “training” has begun. You must go through double sessions and demonstrate a host of skills. Then, the coach makes the call as to who makes the team. 

That training regimen is not unique to soccer, nor unique to today—many of us have similar memories. This training and discipline is effective. It has led to recent district and state championships, as well as to our athletes’ getting placed on district and state teams. The commitment to excellence and the hard work to follow through is what we hope for for all our kids.

I know this because my son was on the Wood River state championship soccer team. He was a welcome and contributing member of the team, and we were proud parents—hosting the team at our house for dinners, and screaming on the sidelines for their success. We did all of this while he was a student at The Sage School. He is one of many Sage students who have contributed to Wood River teams in the past 10 years, operating under the established norms of our valley—Wood River’s sports teams were open to students who could make the team. This tradition makes an incredible amount of sense, especially in a valley where local families contribute 60 percent of the School District’s funds through local property taxes (more when we consider levies).

However, there is a new view of sports in the School District. At some point this year, the board and superintendent were made aware that there was a nearly 30-year-old policy that hadn’t been enforced that gave priority to fully enrolled students (if cuts need to happen), no matter how they performed during tryouts. They reviewed this policy and then codified it, complete with new impacts on our community.

As the board discussed the policy, the conversation consistently came back to money. If all students were taken onto the teams, they argued, it would drive costs too high. That makes complete sense. What was being asked, however, is simply what makes intuitive sense and is the procedure that had been running—that the students of the Wood River Valley be allowed to participate in the competitive sports program on the basis of their ability. If an eligible student succeeds on the field, he or she should be on the team. The money is already in place for the coaches, the fields and the facilities, and keeps coming, based on recent levies that the community has supported.

Some will argue that each school should field its own teams, and dual-enrolled kids have made their choice. With the complexity of Hemingway STEAM Middle School, Silver Creek High School, Syringa Middle School, homeschool, Sun Valley Community School’s students who participate in sports they don’t offer, as well as kids dual-enrolled in Idaho Digital Learning Academy and college courses, one’s “school team” seems trickier to define. Let’s embrace the complexity. Other districts in Idaho do just that. What isn’t tricky is that we all live in one valley and all fund and support our kids together.

There is no right to play sports. We understand that. It is a privilege. Our students take that privilege seriously. They have asked the board to create a policy that pays attention to the nature of competitive sports—let those who perform make the team. That is the privilege of producing a high-quality sports program—one that will continue producing excellence, if we let it.

Chris McAvoy is the assistant head of school at the private Sage School in Hailey.

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