Lake Village, Rison, McGehee, Dollarway, Drew Central, Dumas, and DeWitt is a group of schools you better get familiar with because the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) has struck again. That’s the new conference for the Helena-West Helena Central Cougars in all sports except football.
This continues the assault on the best interests of student-athletes the Arkansas Activities Association claims to cherish. Once again, Helena-West Helena students will be subjected to horribly large amounts of travel. This grouping may even be worse than the football grouping the good ole boys at the AAA offices in Pulaski County imposed upon us earlier because this is for the sports that play during the week.
The AAA put out a joint press release with the National Federation of High School Sports recently. AAA Executive Director Lance Taylor’s name and picture was on it to endorse its content. Here is one sample: “In fact, high school athletes not only have higher grade point averages and fewer school absences (emphasis added) than nonathletes, they also develop the kind of work habits and self-discipline skills that help them become more responsible and community members.” It would seem that the AAA office speaks with a forked tongue because it doesn’t appear based on the way this organization treats Helena-West Helena students that they care how much class our kids have to miss if they are to be allowed to fully participate and perform in all of the extracurricular activities. The AAA’s treatment of Helena-West Helena in the conference assignment process will result in missing more class, spending an immense amount of time on busses, and probably accumulating more absences as some parents choose to let their children sleep an extra hour or two after getting back from a game at Lake Village at 2 am.
Also, let’s not forget that this affects more than just student athletes. It affects cheerleaders, band members, the bus driver who has to drive a route the next day, and the coaches who are also teachers. You can bet that when they don’t get back until the middle of the night that they won’t be feeling like doing their best teaching at 8 am. When I compared that statement in the press release from the AAA office to their actual treatment of the Helena-West Helena School District the only word I could think of was hypocrisy. When I combine the press statement with the experience during our appeal of our football conference assignment, I am surprised Lance Taylor was able to smile for the picture.
But that wasn’t the last interesting little nugget from the AAA office. The press release went on to say, “This is the beginning of a new school year. Opportunities abound in the classroom and outside it. Let’s make the most of them by attending as many athletic events (emphasis added)….as possible.”
The AAA wants to talk about parents, community members, alumni, students, etc., attending as many of these events as possible yet they set up travel requirements that make it next to impossible for any of those individuals to get to the game. Unlike AAA executives who have what are probably high salaries, most of the people who want to cheer on the Cougars are hard-working middle class folks who probably can’t take off for every road game down at Lake Village or other points near the Louisiana border where the AAA wants to send us. In short, the AAA has taken action that ensures that our fans and parents will not be able to see our kids play on the road and that our students will play in stadiums/arenas where they have no fans, which is diametrically opposed to the propaganda sheet it put out earlier this year that is referenced in this column.
During our millage campaign, one of the most powerful videos produced by the pro-millage Great Schools=Great Communities campaign featured Clayton Dyer, who is our Jr. High Football Team’s quarterback. He talked about the difficulty of learning in an environment where you had to take a test with water constantly dripping in buckets. Our community stepped up to make sure that the problems of horrible facilities would be corrected. Imagine how hard it is going to be for Clayton to take a Friday exam next year after a trip to Crossett for football on a Thursday or to Lake Village for a basketball game on a Tuesday.
One of our most active high school parents is Cheryl Dixon. She has a daughter who is a cheerleader who will be a senior next year. She is a single mom with a younger daughter at the elementary school and works as an administrator for Mid Delta’s Head Start Programs. She does an excellent job but do you think she will be able to take off early for multiple Friday trips near the Louisiana state line to Crossett and Hamburg during football season or to Lake Village on a Tuesday during basketball season. Will her younger daughter be able to see her older sister cheer, and support her school and still be awake for school the next day?
Let’s be honest and blunt. The AAA’s actions show that those with political clout get better conference assignments than those of us who reside in the less influential, poorer districts of the state. Helena-West Helena in particular appears to be relegated to the position of the first choice of districts to put on the road and stick it to. Our kids will continue to work hard and do well (Football and Volleyball are off to their best starts in over a decade this season) and this school board will continue to make sure that we do everything we can to provide them with the best opportunities possible.
We will have to provide more resources in our travel budget. We will discuss with Mr. Hoy budgeting for some high quality trip busses to make the trips more comfortable. But it is time for the Arkansas Activities Association to start practicing what it preaches when it comes to being worried about the welfare of ALL students participating in extracurricular activities, and it is time for them to keep their word about truly wanting ALL families and fans in communities in Arkansas to be able to attend the games of their teams.
One thing is certain. Their actions prove that their words are hollow when it comes to truly being concerned about the students in the Helena-West Helena School District. Perhaps its time for the Arkansas General Assembly to exercise more oversight of this organization which exists solely because of the funneling of public dollars to its coffers.