Talmadge Middle School Athletics Still On Road To Recovery

Emily Mentzer/Polk County Itemizer-Observer

Restored funding has Talmadge Middle School seventh-graders back on the field.

The son of two PE teachers, Perry LaBounty played sports in middle and high school while growing up in Northwest Oregon. Now, entering his eighth year as Talmadge Middle School's principal, he's helping rebuild his school's athletic department.

Based in Independence, Oregon, TMS was forced to cut its athletic program in 2009 because of the nationwide financial crisis. This meant the school had to lay off four teachers, one counselor and one assistant principal.

"That was just my building," LaBounty says. "Each school [in the Central School District] lost quite a bit."

Now, though, sports are returning for a second year at TMS, after a five-year absence. The school, whose population nears 680 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, features boys' and girls' volleyball, soccer, cross country, track and field, wrestling and football.

Studies from the New York Times and other published journals suggest there are many positive impacts sports have on students.

And LaBounty understands the importance of extracurricular involvement, and sees sports as a strong way to bring the community together.

"The biggest thing that they learn by participating in sports and activities is how to work with one another, teamwork, how to respond to adversity and persevere," LaBounty says. "Isolation is not a good thing for kids or for adults, and the power of sports is another thing to bring us together and make us, overall, more successful."

To bridge the gap before funding returned, TMS partnered with Central Youth Sports, a non-profit group based in Independence, to have students become more active and involved within the community. It ran TMS's programs as if it was school-based, however it did have its drawbacks: The cost per student averaged $75 (compared to $25) and, often times, the coaches were volunteer parents and teachers.

"Teachers are a selfless lot," LaBounty says. "They put in a lot of hours, but they see the value of being involved and having kids involved. ... You're connecting with them as a coach in a way that you wouldn't be able to make in another setting."

The power of sports is another thing to bring us together and make us overall more successful.
Perry LaBounty

Students and their parents had to fundraise to participate in its programs, from bake sales, bottle drives and Christmas tree disposal at the end of the holiday season.

"The kids jumped in," LaBounty says. "They were out doing things over the summer, during the course of the year, doing as much as they could to make sure things stayed up and running. It was a big community effort across the board from parents, committee members, kids and staff."

It wasn't until last year that the athletic program was reinstated. Its budget nears $135,000, which covers the cost of an athletic director position, coaches, paying for officials, equipment and helmet safety certification. 

And the transition between Central Youth Sports and Talmadge Middle School was seamless.

"Kids didn't know the difference," he says. "That was our goal."

LaBounty can see firsthand the significant progress the school has made over the last five years. He can walk outside and see a football game, a soccer game and a volleyball game all taking place in the same night.

"I could see 100 kids within the course of one evening participating in activities," LaBounty says. "It's good to see them having fun in the community. Those are good moments."

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