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MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) - It's been a question parents and community members alike have asked for months: Will the new Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System have a sports program?
At community meeting Monday night, the answer from school administrators was yes.
Muskegon Heights' football field is showing disuse. It's patchy and brown in places. But the district's new athletic director Glen Metcalf promised the community the stands won't stay empty for long.
"We are going to have athletics," said Metcalf.
"Yeah, I'm totally supportive of this," Gene Eidelman, co-founder of Atlanta based Mosaica chimed in. Mosaica is the company running the new charter school district for the upcoming school year.
Metcalf told 24 Hour News 8 the district will have football and volleyball this fall. Administrators hope to hire a football coach by next week and start practice next month.
"We will build a program and put Muskegon Heights back in the right direction," said Metcalf.
Many families have left the district due to the unrest, 24 Hour News 8 was told. Right now, total enrollment for the K-12 charter is about 250 -- less than 20% of enrollment for last year. Eidelman said about 100 of those are kindergarten students.
When community members and parents pressed specifics -- like what class the school would compete in -- Metcalf said he simply wouldn't know those answers until enrollment is completed.
So, for now, the quality of the athletics program is a question without an answer.
24 Hour News 8 wanted to know -- why are sports programs for the beleaguered district?
"The community wants something to put their hands on to be involved," said Metcalf. "There's been a lot of history here in athletics and they don't want to see that die."
The new athletic director said that the community has always rallied around district sports and they can provide benefits to the athletes on and off the field. Metcalf should know -- he was an assistant high school basketball coach for several years and was the district's head football coach for 24 seasons before leaving to coach basketball at Olivet College.
Metcalf said sports are not only important to community morale, but also pointed out they can offer benefits to students on and off the field. He used himself as an example -- he graduated from the Heights himself and won a college scholarship.
Studies agree about the potential benefits, routinely showing that student athletes are not only usually in better shape, but also that organized sports can offer emotional benefits like a sense of self-worth -- especially for students who don't thrive in the classroom.
"When you shut down your athletic program, it's like closing the doors on a lot of people and a lot of things," said Metcalf.
Leaders of the community meeting did stress that Muskegon Heights athletes will be students first and athletes second -- saying that their academic progress will be tracked weekly.
Some parents who attended the meeting said they understood why others continually ask about athletics -- but say that's not their top priority.
"[Sports are] something that the Heights has always done," said parent Angela Locke. "You know that's what they like, so I mean, to each his own. Each person has their own choice right now. Sports is not my main thing, my main thing right now is my child's education being able to make it later on in life."
That was a sentiment that Eidelman echoed -- pointing out that not many students would go on to become professional athletes, but that they do need to be able to compete in the world beyond school.
Another big question brought up at Monday night's meeting was the question of eligibility. Community members said that many athletes had applied to attend other schools this fall -- since they didn't know what Muskegon Heights' athletic situation would be. 24 Hour News 8 spoke to John Johnson from the Michigan High School Athletic Association Monday night -- he said "the clock doesn't start ticking" until a student starts practice at another school or takes a class.
If a student decided to come back to Muskegon Heights in the fall and hadn't practiced at another district or started classes, that athlete could start playing sports at Muskegon Heights right away.
Research in Youth Sports: Critical Issues Status (pdf)
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