An idea to kick around

"A camel is a horse designed by a committee."

 So says the proverb that is critical of group decision-making. This saying emphasizes the ineffectiveness of incorporating too many conflicting opinions into a single project.

When you stop and think about it, however, Vermillion has been pretty fortunate when it has turned to committees to address some of its pressing concerns. Constructing a new city hall in the community at times seemed to be just a dream years ago; the hard work of a committee made up of dedicated community members helped that dream become a reality.

Dedicated committee members address a wide variety of issues on a regular basis in Vermillion, including city and county zoning matters, the operation of our local hospital, the expansion of our municipal library, and the best way to deal with an aging swimming pool.

We don't exactly know what to call this – an issue, a problem, a matter that needs attention – perhaps this could be defined as all of those things.

It's something that has reached the "murmur level" in conversations over morning coffee klatches throughout town, or in friendly conversations among neighbors. It's usually talked about in hushed tones. It's not something people are eager to just utter out loud.

We believe it's time to get a public dialogue going, however. It's time to have a thorough, open and hopefully positive, results-oriented discussion about the Vermillion High School football program.

This has been a particularly rough year for Tanager football. The team hasn't scored a point in its last three games. Along with being shutout, our players have been trounced on the field. They've lost to Canton 37-0. Tea rolled over us 45-0. We were no match for Harrisburg last week. They crushed us, 50-0.

It wasn't always that way. The Tanager football program enjoyed perfect seasons in 1995 and 1999. In recent years, our high school football team has managed to make it as far as the first round of regional playoff action – in fact, that happened just last season. But that's about the best we've been able to accomplish, for years now.

There is truth in the adage, "Winning isn't everything." We believe the values that are intrinsic in the extra-curricular activities offered by our school district go beyond the performance on the field or the on the court or on the stage. They are something bigger than a win-loss record, the applause from the audience, or a trophy in a display case.

These activities offer opportunities for students to learn the values of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, diversity, and a sense of culture and community.

Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context, and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education.

There is no doubt the community grasps the importance of these types of activities in our school system.

We believe a cause for concern – something that needs to be explored – is the growing extra-curricular participation gap that seems apparent in our school district.

We know our school enrollment figures have been dwindling a bit, while numbers in surrounding districts like Harrisburg and Tea are exploding.

We'd like to know if smaller enrollment is leading to less participation in extra-curricular activities, particularly the Vermillion football program. We'd like to know if other issues are at play here. Discouraged student athletes? Discouraged parents?

All we know is that football is just one of many ways for the community and the school district to engage with a number of students in our high school. It is a way for all us, who pay our taxes to fund all local education programs, to help increase students' chances of success in the classroom. We should be interested in trying to offer the best programs possible for our students, and we can't help but wonder if some changes are needed.

We're worried about that student engagement. Can it continue with a program that seems be offering such a heavy dose of negative experiences this year? Is there any way we can help make Tanager football a better experience for our future high school athletes?

We encourage the Vermillion School Board to begin a dialogue with the community by considering the formation of a citizens' committee to explore these issues.

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