Cover Story: Save middle school sports

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system is in a budget crisis. Teachers will be laid off.  Programs will be cut.

As a result, the superintendent's budget plan doesn't devote a dime to middle school sports.

It's got moms and dads fired up. They are scrambling to raise money.

Organizers say they hope they're close to getting a major Charlotte donor to step forward to help save middle school sports in Charlotte-Mecklenburg from being completely eliminated.

Last year, they dodged a bullet with a generous gift from Bobcats owner Michael Jordan who came in with a $250,000 check.

M.J.'s contribution - with other donations - and instituting "pay to play" fees kept middle school sports alive.

Now it's year two.  And again middle school sports aren't in Superintendent Pete Gorman's budget.

"I do not believe any taxpayer money should be used for middle school sports at this time."

Not what you'd expect to hear from Tripp Roakes, publisher of the South Charlotte Sports Report a newspaper that covers area youth sports.

Roakes is father of three.  And youth sports has become his life.

But he says with CMS already going to the extreme and having to layoff teachers, middle school sports can't be a sacred cow.  It doesn't mean it's not important however.

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[CG :2 Line FranchiseTripp RoakesSouth Charlotte Sports ReportCover Story]

"As a father.. as a parent you cannot rely on the school system to provide a complete education.. same thing for youth sports," said Roakes.  "You can't rely on someone else to do everything. You've got to go out and do it yourself and make it happen for your own child."

And Roakes is.  He and others two months ago organized a meeting in south Charlotte (almost 600 in the audience) to plot a course to fund middle school sports independent of CMS.

They've set up a website,

They've started a non-profit foundation to raise money.

And they're working with local schools and businesses to host big dollar fundraisers.

One of those also active in finding alternate funding is school board member Rhonda Lennon.

"I would love to be able to tell kids before June the 10th that we've got things in place to save this program," said Lennon.

Middle school athletics costs the district $1.2 million a year.

Lennon says groups are approaching a yet-unnamed prominent Charlottean who is considering ponying up 60-to-70 percent of that $1.2 million.

More money would have to come in, but it would save football basketball softball and soccer.

"Go out and talk to a 13 year old boy and ask him what motivates him. Go talk to a 13-year old or 14-year old girl. And ask them what motivates them.. they're gonna talk to you about how they had a blast at their football game and how they're excited and how they're working hard to keep their grades up," said Lennon.

Organizers for Save Middle School sports held a second rally Tuesday evening.

They've had some heavy hitters helping.  Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad has been helping raise money.  He hosted a taco-eating contest earlier this month.

Muhsin has two kids in CMS middle school athletics and says it's incomprehensible that sports would be eliminated.

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