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New PIL sports plan: Meet in the middle

District fundraising for ambitious slate in middle schools


The first Portland Interscholastic League middle-school twilight track and field meet on May 2 was quite a success.

About 650 students from grades 6 through 8, representing 43 city elementary and middle schools and nine high schools, convened at Roosevelt, wearing their school’s shirts and uniforms and Nike shoes provided gratis by a local sponsor.

Nearly 100 of the students represented the home school.

“The Roosevelt kids were walking in unison, running around the track, doing calisthenics together,” says Marshall Haskins, the PIL’s new athletic director. “The Roosevelt athletic director and vice principal were like, ‘Wow.’ Speechless. It was a beautiful thing. Almost brought tears to my eyes.”

It was the culmination of a pilot program of what Haskins envisions as a wide-ranging

middle-school athletic program that will turn into a functional feeder system for the PIL schools and help make them competitive with teams from throughout the state.

Through participatory fees and funds provided by Portland Public Schools, each school had four dual meets, then the twilight meet and a city championship event this spring.

“It’s immeasurable the effect it has had,” Haskins says. “The parents were ecstatic. There’s nothing like sports to galvanize a group of students and a community, get them together to build relationships. It helps with school attendance and academic standards. It’s really exciting.”

Haskins is Portland born and bred — a three-sport standout who graduated from Jefferson in 1981 and played basketball at Warner Pacific, Haskins has coached basketball at Madison, Franklin and Jefferson, served as AD at Jeff and as a vice-principal at Wilson and Franklin.

The first major move Haskins, 51, made as AD of the PIL schools was to push through OSAA legislation to get them back together under a singular umbrella at the Class 6A level beginning next academic year. In recent years, the PIL teams had been split between 6A and 5A and moved into different leagues. It led to the dissolution of natural rivalries that had existed for as long as a century.

Now Haskins is embarking on an even more ambitious undertaking. He is spearheading a fundraising drive to finance middle-school athletics. The cost is not insignificant: $950,000 annually.

“That’s to do it right,” Haskins says. “Fundraising through donations, student fees and grant-writing will cover the expenses.”

PIL coaches, watching with interest, are generally applauding the move.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” says Don Emry, a veteran PIL basketball coach who has been at Cleveland for six years. “Marshall has tried to shake things up a little bit and figure out a way our PIL schools can compete at 6A.

“I think it will help, but it’s a daunting task. There has never been an organized middle-school athletic program overseen by the district, so it’ll be different. I like that he is trying to look at new ways to do things. Grant is competitive in everything, and Lincoln has good years in various sports, but how about the rest of the schools?”

Urban flight and declining enrollments has made it difficult to compete in many sports at such schools as Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Madison. An open enrollment policy has meant parents could send their children to other schools in the district.

Out-of-school programs are available to city kids in most sports, but not as feeder systems for area schools. That’s what Haskins envisions with a new middle-school program that would include volleyball, cross country, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, track and field and dance. In addition, the middle schools would provide collaborative programs for youth teams available in football, soccer, tennis and golf.

“We’re trying to build infrastructure to have systematic access and equity for our middle-school kids,” Haskins says. “And we’re looking to align those kids with high schools as a feeder system.

“As a league, we can’t become better unless we have a foundation for our players. If kids are playing volleyball or basketball for the first time as high school freshmen, there’s no way they can be competitive.”

It rankles Haskins, too, to see middle-school kids from the city leave the community in which they are raised to represent another team in high school.

“I’m a Jefferson grad,” he says. “I have pride on my community. Athletics should be a bridge that brings the community together, a vehicle to build relationships so kids want to stay at their neighborhood schools. They do it in all the other districts. We just haven’t done it in ours.”

Most of the state’s school districts, however, do not offer organized sports through the middle schools.

“Many school districts have lost them due to budget cuts over the years,” says Pete Lukich, Sunset High’s AD. In the Metro League, “we don’t have any. We’d love to have middle-school athletics, but there’s a price tag to it.”

Metro League schools partner with youth programs such as those run through the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District. High school coaches conduct preseason clinics in sports like football. They leave the in-season coaching to volunteers, but the kids are organized by school boundaries and play together as a group, preparing them for a move to high-school athletics together as freshmen.

“It’s a good working agreement,” Lukich says. “We have something that works well. But I like Marshall’s idea. It’d be great to be able to do it. We’ll be watching with interest.”

In Haskins’ initial track and field run this spring, he was able to find sponsorship to provide buses, uniforms and 1,600 pairs of Nike track shoes that were distributed to coaches and student-athletes at the area middle schools.

Now it’s time for the heavy hitting.

The first fundraiser is the Legacy Golf Scramble June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, which Haskins hopes will reap $150,000 through three to five title sponsors, 18 hole sponsors and 72 players at $250 a pop.

Nike and Orthopedic Fracture Specialists are already on board as title sponsors. Former NBA All-Star guard Terrell Brandon, a one-time star at Grant High, will speak at the post-tournament dinner. (For information, see pilathletics.com or call 503-916-3223.)

The other two scheduled fund-raisers will revolve around what Haskins calls “the PIL 500” — 500 benefactors who would be willing to contribute $1,000 apiece annually. Haskins also intends to have a benefit relay race involving the nine PIL high schools.

In addition to coaching and teaching fundamentals, Haskins will require middle-school coaches to provide character-building education for the student-athletes. He flew to Los

Angeles this year to meet with former Benson and NBA standout A.C. Green, who operates a character-building program with

L.A. public schools and community centers.

“We piloted a 12-week boys-to-men character-building curriculum at Franklin this year,” he says. “Rather than hope the coach is a good coach and role model, we want to go a step further, to ensure the kids will be more prepared for high school not just athletically but as good citizens.”

What Haskins is trying to accomplish city-wide, Emry has done with boys basketball in the Cleveland area.

“We instituted a youth program my second year,” Emry says. “So many of the good kids get picked up by the CYO program, and they wind up at different high schools. Now our kids have programs beginning at the fourth grade level, and it has helped Cleveland be more competitive.”

Most of the PIL schools have competed at the 5A level in recent years, which has been a mixed blessing.

“We’ve been able to compete better, to win some titles,” Emry says. “But it has also taken away some natural rivalries that have existed forever, and it has meant for more travel.

“It remains to be seen how it will play out, but I like that Marshall has shaken things up and isn’t going status quo. He has asked the district for more money for athletes and has tried to figure out ways to make the PIL competitive in all sports.”

Haskins’ first year on the job has been productive.

“It’s going well, but it’s been hard,” he says. “I’ve grown to respect (predecessor) Greg Ross more than I did prior to taking the job — how difficult it is to move things with the bureaucracy involved. But I’m excited about where we’re headed.”

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