Improvements to athletic facilities would be step in the right direction

When my husband and I decided to start a family, like many families, we prioritized moving into areas with higher-rated schools. Our first home was in an extremely rural area, where schools suffered because of overall population and community/state support within that area. After doing our research, we decided to make the move to Baldwinsville, New York, because we saw statistics that showed that Baldwinsville was rated high academically but also that their athletics’ departments were well-rated. Although the work commute was a challenge for both of us, it was worth it knowing that we were allowing our kids to go to a great public school.

I have always prioritized my kids’ academic success, but closely following is their ability to participate in school sports. I am not naive to think that my kids will be playing professionally or even at the collegiate level, but I feel that it is important to keep my kids active in a sport to encourage them to feel like part of a team, to feel pride in their school and to strive to achieve greatness in themselves (whatever that might mean for each of them individually). School sports can bring kids together from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to feel included as part of a team competing towards a common goal, which might be a luxury that not all kids experience at home.

When I was a kid, I was the oldest sibling in a single-parent household, and I remember feeling like I didn’t always have the same opportunities as my peers. I couldn’t get rides to school sports or outside-school activities, until one day, our high school girls’ basketball coach helped me to coordinate rides to and from practices. Our school supported our athletic department with bus transportation to and from games and athletic facilities that were well-maintained. Once I was able to participate in school basketball, I felt included and finally part of a team. My memories of being on the basketball team are some of my better memories of high school.

When my husband and I decided to make the move from Baldwinsville to upstate New York almost a decade ago, it was primarily for our careers, but also because we were thrilled to be able to raise our family in such a picturesque and community-minded area. We heard, from word-of-mouth, that Saranac Lake had one of the larger school districts in the area and that this allowed for more opportunities for its students. I still agree that Saranac Lake is one of the largest schools in the area, however, I have been a little frustrated and confused by the lack of overall support from the community for our schools’ athletics department, especially with the overall size of our school compared to surrounding areas. I see much smaller school districts with well-maintained fields and indoor gyms, and these schools’ sports teams excel at sports like football, lacrosse, soccer, and basketball, because they have the facilities that allow the students to perform as athletes and give them pride in their schools.

School sports can encourage students to feel like they are a part of something good and to have pride in their school and in their community. Keeping students engaged in their school and school-related activities will eventually cycle back into the surrounding community in a positive way.

The proposals that are in question that pertain to supporting the Saranac Lake athletics department and fund improvements to our school’s facilities do not greatly impact our taxes, and most of these funds have already been allocated to athletic improvements on school grounds. We have a child that has always been an all-season athlete and she is graduating this year from Saranac Lake High School. She will not see these improvements to our school as a high school student; however, she will benefit from feeling proud of the high school she graduated from. I did not grow up in this area and I don’t always understand the deep-rooted politics of our surrounding community, but I hear the comments and feel the frustration of other parents when it comes to the apparent lack of support that our students and student-athletes receive in this district. So much of this burden falls back on the coaches and parents, even though it feels like our hands are often tied, which is seemly why out school athletic program and reputation among surrounding areas suffers. When someone drives to Saranac Lake from another school district for an away game, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the Saranac Lake students and overall community to show our pride. I am hopeful that these proposed improvements to our athletic facilities are a step in the right direction to better supporting our students and, in turn, our community as a whole.

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Erika Denkenberger lives in Lake Clear.


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