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Stukes tackles athletics funding


City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes wasn't aware of the extent of the lack of funding for Baltimore public high school athletics until the issue hit home.

Stukes' daughter, a student at Edmondson High School, complained to him about the heat and sweat of gym class. It seemed to him it was nothing that a shower couldn't solve. But when he visited the West Baltimore school, he found out that showers wouldn't help - because they didn't exist.

"I was shocked when I first found out," Stukes said. "We have kids who play in football games, then have to walk through the streets smelling like a bathroom. We can't expect to build the self-esteem of our students if we can't even provide a place for them to shower after practice or gym class."

Stukes, chairman of the council's Education and Human Resources Committee, is holding a public hearing at 5 p.m. today in City Council chambers to examine the issue.

"I've asked all 18 high school athletic directors to come and tell me the condition they are in," Stukes said. "I have a feeling people out there may not be aware of how bad it is."

He's also invited local professional sports teams and businesses, hoping they'll contribute to local programs.

Stukes said that of Baltimore public high schools, only Polytechnic Institute has a certified trainer on staff to care for athletes when they get injured because the school privately raised the money to provide one.

Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for city schools, says Baltimore is at a disadvantage when compared with wealthier subdivisions.

"There is a tremendous need for additional funding to get the city's high schools on the same playing field with surrounding counties," he said. "Are we in need of funding? Of course."

In 1999, Baltimore city schools allocated $1.1 million for its high school athletic programs and this year increased that amount to $2 million. Most of that money will go toward starting a football program at Cherry Hill's new high school, Southside Academy, said school system spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt. The 17 other schools will receive an increase of about $1,500 each.

The increase is essential, Stukes said. However, equipment is expensive - a wrestling mat costs more than $5,000 - and the money can be spent quickly.

The focus must remain on academics, but when secondary sports such as track and wrestling don't have basic equipment, it hurts the community in the long-term, Stukes said.

"It's become very important in this state to spend millions of dollars to build beautiful 70,000 seat stadiums for our professional teams," Stukes said. "But where are these athletes coming from? How is it we can spend money for professional sports but we can't afford to support our high school athletes?"

Fred Hendricks, the boy's track coach at Merganthaler Vo-Tech, has been dealing with shoe-string budgets for years and says a potential Raven or Mystic player might never make it because he or she didn't have access to decent facilities.

"In track, we lose the really big kids because we don't have a track to run on or a discus cage," Hendricks said. "Now what kid, say 250 pounds or more, is going to want to run up and down in the street for track practice?"

Mervo athletes often don't perform well in events such as the pole vault or discus because they have no practice facilities. "It's even getting hard to practice hurdles because we're down to the bare bones of those," Hendricks said.

Stukes' goal is to raise public awareness at tonight's meeting, then decide with the schools the best way to alleviate the situation. Ideally, he said, he'd love to see the business community help tomorrow's athletes.

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