Calling all tennis players. Calling all golfers ready for shotgun starts. Calling all shuffle-board players, 5K runners, jazzercise jazzers, yoga’ed-out yogis, grayed-out barrel-riders, cast-out fish-finders, and even calling all 65-year-old hockey players still carving rink with the best of them (if any of them actually happen to exist, aside from Selbyville’s Lee Stanley). Most definitely calling Vaughn Baker, the First State Pickleball Club and pickleball players everywhere.
Calling anyone who actually cares.
I may be generalizing here — stereotyping pretty hard, even — when it comes to the people who live here and the things that they do. But I don’t think anyone can argue much about the pretty serious juxtaposition we’ve got going on when it comes to our area and its generalized demographic.
Some of us are just winding up. Some of us are just winding down. Some of us are in this sort of in-between age-group category that doesn’t really wind very much but that I can’t figure out a clever-enough way to define via similarly-structured sentence fragment.
While Lower Sussex County may not exactly be the Hutus and the Tutsis, it’s kind of almost at war when it comes to the Indian River School District referendum and its proposed property-tax increase.
Teachers and coaches could lose their jobs. Students could lose their clubs and their sports, their teachers and coaches, too. Property owners could lose their current property tax rate.
I get the dilemma.
Whether you’ve been rocking a chicken-farm accent since birthday one or you’ve recently left the glass-tower grind to retire to Sussex County’s simplicity and/or solitude, there’s probably a good chance that if you live here, your kids have long since flown the coop and you’re spending your long-awaited down days more interested in after happy-hour programs than after-school ones.
Then there’s the whole dread-inducing, friend/Roman concept of just raising taxes in general. Whether you fall into the retiree category or no, you can probably agree that the greedy bottomless piglet that is the government of the states united is more than bloated enough as it is. And I’m not just talking about the time that President Donald J., The tweeted out that selfie after taking the family silver to a bucket of Kentucky’s fried finest.
But if there’s one area where bureaucratic sacrifices can’t afford to be made, even when it comes to feeding the proverbial pig, it has to be education.
Education: a.k.a. the last chance for what’s left of our purple mountain’s majesty and amber waves of GMO-processed grain. Education: the last chance at a future commander-in-chief who doesn’t use Snapchat filters and/or somehow peeve the nation of Australia. Education: our last chance at never again being forced to choose between a 70-year-old gargoyle who can’t use email and a 70-year-old citrus fruit who can’t grasp that he’s no longer on reality television.
You may not realize it — and if you don’t, I’d probably suggest thumbing through the sports spread back here every once a Thursday or so — but there’s a lot of pretty great kids living around here, going to some pretty great schools and doing some pretty great things.
Whether it be fall, winter or spring, these are kids out making our community proud by winning state-championship titles with the Indian River High School soccer team or Sussex Central High School wrestling team; volunteering their time to help area businesses generate some much-needed economic impact with events such as the Little League Softball World Series in Roxana; and inviting us for leisurely evenings out by putting on plays, concerts and variety shows.
These are kids that are building literal bridges with the Eagle Scouts and figurative ones to a hopefully less hopeless future. Some of them are kids that even keep us safe in the summer by taking to the guard stand for area beach patrols or keep us soft-served and sprinkled during half-light strolls down the boardwalk.
Going into my fourth year as the sports reporter for the Coastal Point, I’ve been around a lot of these schools and a lot of these kids a lot of the time. And I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been, without a doubt, the best part of my job.
That being said, I can tell you that these are kids that don’t just deserve to have programs for sports and band and drama club and everything else — these are kids that need them (they also need roofs over their heads, and a lot of their parents are teachers).
It’s often that in an interview after a big game or after a season that I’ll hear one of them say: “I don’t know where I’d be without [this sport or that team or this coach].” Sometimes it makes me wonder where’d I’d be if I never got the chance to be part of something bigger than myself at an age like that. Or even part of something bigger than myself at this one. If I never got to learn sportsmanship through lacrosse or how to juggle life through that juggling lesson I took that one time. If I never learned how to work for something. Accomplish something. Learned how it felt to help someone else accomplish something or how it felt to make an actual difference, no matter how big or how small.
Just last week, after Indian River hosted the Henlopen Conference’s first Unified basketball games for athletes with special needs, one of the players summed it up pretty well when he said: “I finally feel like I’m part of a team.”
Needless to say, that was pretty cool.
What’s not pretty cool is that the budget for programs that are already unbelievably underfunded — with coaches taking on what basically equates to a second job for what basically ends up equating to canceling out the cost of getting to and from practice (maybe) by the end of the season — what’s not pretty cool is the possibility of there being even less funding for programs already in need of more. Programs run on fraying shoestrings by teachers, coaches and community members just trying to make sure that the kids who need to finally feel like they’re part of a team, get to.
It’s those kind of people who are somehow making it all work and who probably won’t be able to anymore if the referendum doesn’t pass. Coaches who still win conference championships without proper pool time. Coaches who take once-winless field hockey teams to the playoffs with goals on their last legs and scoreboards that haven’t flashed bulb since before Nixon went to China. Coaches who put on fundraiser after fundraiser just to be able to scrape by with ragtag uniforms and equipment and buses and whatever else.
I don’t know exactly what a “no” on the referendum will mean for those kinds of people, their kids, their jobs, or their teams. No one really does at this point, honestly. Even ruthless watchdog reporter the Coastal Point’s very own Laura Walter — who’s been documenting the whole thing unfold from as ethically unbiased a standpoint as it gets, since Day 1 — doesn’t know.
What I do know, thanks to Walt-watch, is that since 2010, enrollment in the district has grown by 1,648 students and that paid coaching positions, middle-school sports, extracurricular activities, lighted football fields for Pop Warner and other extra educational programs are all on the chopping block if the proposed tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value doesn’t pass.
I also know that if you’re doing the math on that right now and end up at all worrying about your answer, you can probably afford not to. It’s roughly $95 per year for the average taxpayer in the district, which isn't quite enough to buy you a new golf club but could potentially be enough to save the kids all their existing after-school clubs, start some new ones, and save their golf team too.
Whatever your individual sum ends up totaling, the collective one is that the referendum could eventually create more than $7 mill in additional funding for the district. Funding that it's going to need every penny of with enrollment expected to surpass 12,000 students by 2022.
Not to go all Frankie Blue Eyes on you, but, in other words, the generation-gap playing field in Slower Lower Sussex is slowly evening out.
Let’s hope there are still playing fields left when it does, because I, for one, don’t want to live here when the generation that never had the chance to learn how to juggle life eventually becomes the one juggling mine.
That means we need more teachers, more coaches, more athletic programs and more funding. Not less.
If you still wanna have it your way, Burger King-style, that’s fine. We do still live in a free country, after all. Get out and vote however you want. Vote “IDK, maybe,” for all I care. But before casting your ballot on March 2, I’d encourage you to maybe do this one thing first: go out and see for yourself.
Go out and cheer for the basketball team during their first trip back to the playoffs next week. The wrestling team at the state championships this weekend. Go catch the drama club’s next modern interpretation of Shakespeare. The county band at their annual show. Get to know the people in this community and what the things in jeopardy mean to them. Their families. Their livelihoods.
I already know a lot of them. And already know that, come next week, they’re the ones I’ll be voting for.