A COMMUNITY IN NEED
Like many smaller communities, Conneaut has struggled to stem the widening gap between its local public funding and what is needed for a strong school system and community. Two related areas that have suffered are school athletics and community recreation:
- Conneaut students in the track program can only compete “away” since there is no regulation track at “home.”
- There are no tennis courts for students or residents’ to use since the aged, patched courts are well beyond repairs and maintenance.
- The soccer field uses the football field so its practices and interscholastic play schedule has to be “fit in.”
It is incongruous that the Conneaut Area City Schools system–consistently rated as “excellent” academically²–has such a limiting physical education program.
School-sponsored athletic programs are not “frills” but a vital part of a solid academic program.³ Important benefits of school athletic programs include:
- Student athletes have higher grade-point averages, better attendance records, and lower drop-out rates.
- School athletic programs promote teamwork, sportsmanship, rewards of hard work and self-discipline, and build self-confidence.
- Participation in high school sports activities is often a predictor of later success in college – 95% of the surveyed CEOs of Fortune 500 companies reported that they were active in high school sports.
My participation in the Conneaut High School and City athletic programs fueled a spark that enabled me to receive a college degree and enter into the coaching profession. Relationships established with coaches, teammates and fans, along with skillful training and proper discipline remained with me during my 39 years of coaching (19 years at the NFL level).
² Conneaut High School has been academically rated as “Excellent” by the State of Ohio continuously since 2005, the first Ashtabula County high school to receive this high mark. It has also earned a designation of “School of Promise” annually from the State Superintendent since 2005.
³ National Federation of State High School Associations, “The Case for Activities,” 2008.
Conneaut’s lack of school sports facilities has a wider impact. Many communities use such facilities for residents’ recreation and community events when they are not in use by the school. Currently, there are no public recreational facilities in Conneaut. Residents’ only options are to pay to join a local gym, buy their own equipment, and/or to go outside of Conneaut. This, coupled with the fact that the median household income in Conneaut ($37,783) is significantly below the state average ($47,988), negatively impacts the quality of life index for many residents. There are major economic implications as well. Without strong school athletic and community recreational facilities, it will be harder to attract new residents, businesses and industries in an increasingly competitive market. And Conneaut’s small but growing community of vacation home owners could stagnate. Conneaut is a community in need, and SPARC, a Social Place for Athletics, Recreation and Community, is the transformative solution.
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