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Opinion: Youth Sports and Community Building

Above: The 1979 Greendale High School varsity football team, this author is number 53.

Above: The 1979 Greendale High School varsity football team, this author is number 53.

I just can’t figure if what we are witnessing lately at Greendale school board meetings is high drama, bad soap opera or a tragedy.

Typically, school board meetings are dry affairs with very low public attendance. They don’t lend themselves to much real drama. However, the actions (or inactions) of school board and John Tharp continue to be at the center of attention in Greendale.

Just prior to Monday’s meeting, I’d say that at least some of the members of the school board and administration looked tense. Who can blame them? Lately, this school board has presided over public controversies that have drifted very close to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey territory. They were facing another full house.

The dozens seated in the gallery were joined by three Village trustees — I consider that notable. The school board candidates were in attendance as well. Then came the citizen comments. The school board heard from a string of basketball and soccer parents, football coaches and league commissioners.

Their comments seemed to share similar threads. First, the board heard loud and clear (again) that many in the room support John Tharp and his youth sports initiatives. I think it is great that Tharp supports youth sports. I even hear he is a youth basketball coach over at St. Als. No problem with that.

Another theme was that youth sports are vital to the well-being of the Village’s children and families. As a former kid, I hereby attest that my youth and high school sports experiences in Greendale were a highlight of my childhood. It think it is pretty hard to argue against the value youth sports organizations bring to our Village and its families. That is a no brainer. To be against youth sports in the Village would almost be like being against the veterans.

Then, I heard that our community’s kids should be given priority access to school facilities over the Park and Recreation Department. Here is where I think we hit a main sticking point.

Superintendent John Tharp unilaterally decided in 2013 that Greendale youth sports leagues should be given priority over Park and Recreation Department programs for use of district facilities. I’ve also heard that fees have been waived these groups.

The nitty-gritty is that his decisions fly contrary to long-standing policies voted on and approved by the Greendale School board. School board policy provides the general direction as to what the School Board wishes to accomplish while delegating implementation of policy to the administration.

Board policy governs both Park and Recreation and the schools. There are also long-standing cooperative agreements between Village Hall, Park and Recreation and the school district for maintenance and scheduling of fields like Lions Park and The Community Center facilities. Upkeep and improvements at those facilities is not free. Many feel his decision took money out pockets of both the Village of Greendale and the Park and Recreation Department and gave it to the youth sports groups.

Scattered among criticism, there was a smattering of very tepid support of the Park and Rec Department from the youth sports contingent. What was notable was that not a single board member, the superintendent or even the long-time businesses manager spoke up about the hard work and value the Park and Recreation Department brings to our Village and schools. Not a peep.

Only a lone resident stepped up to the microphone and stuck up for the Park and Recreation Department, perhaps out of exasperation. Joe Crapitto did manage a statement that at least tried to clarify the school board policy. Frankly, it came off a bit weak. As near as I can tell, he said the school board might be taking a fresh look at the policy. I’m not sure.

A review of board policy is part of what the youth sports groups are asking for. I think it is a perfectly reasonable request and something that could have been hashed out in 2013. One would think that collaboration, consensus and communication among stakeholders is the preferred way forward to progress. Instead, the superintendent has again chosen the path that invites conflict and division while board choses a path of inaction.

As one impartial observer at Monday’s meeting asked me, “Why is everyone so angry?”

Conflict is natural. Conflict, to differing degrees, occurs daily in everyone’s life. Conflict in and of itself is not necessarily good or bad. It’s the way that conflict is handled that makes the outcome positive or negative.

The tradition in Greendale is for a wide range of groups to work together as much as possible for the common good of the community. It is part of Greendale’s DNA. However, the DNA of the Greendale School District has mutated.

As one Village leader wondered out loud, “Is the school district part of the community or is the community part of the school district?”

I think that is a fair question to ask.

About The Author

Bill Attewell

Bill Attewell is the editor and publisher of Everything Greendale. He has over 20 years experience as an award-winning newspaper editor, writer and publisher. His work has been read in in over 50 publications across the U.S. and abroad. Bill is a long-time resident of Greendale and a Greendale High School alum. Go Panthers!


  1. Silly Sally

    Youth sports are simply asking to have access to Greendale facilities. Does Park & Rec really need to set aside all Saturday morning for open gym? Do ballroom dancers need an entire field house to practice. Youth basketball can have eight teams practicing at the high school if they are given the opportunity. The park and rec needs to be a little flexible and not simply say “well we have been meeting here since the 1990s”,

  2. reality check

    Dear Keeping It Real: Who pays for for the DPW and district summer employees to take care of cutting the soccer fields and dragging the baseball fields during the summer? The taxpayers. That’s real.

    Shouldn’t the youth sports group pay their fair share instead of putting something else on the backs of taxpayers? They are paying ZERO right now. That’s real.

    Those are the taxpayers who get to vote on the district’s multi-million dollar referendum to pay for Tharp’s three new gyms. That’s real.

    It doesn’t say youth sports are given priority over Park & Rec. So, that’s NOT very real.

    The sports people HAVE complained about the fees that pays for the upkeep of the fields. That’s real. They didn’t turn down Tharp’s offer not to pay fees. That’s real.

    Keep it real dude!!!

    • Keeping it Real

      You are correct, the tax payers pay them, not from the Park and Rec budget. I never said tax payers didn’t, just that Park and Rec wasn’t paying for that work to be done, that is the reality of it which your comment agrees to!

      Sorry to tell you but they are not paying Zero right now. Twinight pays a $5 per player fee currently and has for a while. I also have heard that the organizations have no problem paying the fee for their players, they are battling being put behind other activities.

      Don’t know what the gym part has to do with my post, but I don’t support the field house at all. It cuts into limited green space at the high school and eliminate half the parking. I really don’t think it has any chance of surviving. Though I do like the ideas for HV and Canterbury.

      It doesn’t say ‘youth sports’ and I never said it did. It does say students of Greendale Schools, which I did say and will argue with you that at least 90% of the players in these organizations are Greendale Students. So that is the reality of them.

      Finally, as I have heard, they have no problem with the fees going forward, they just want to work with the Athletic Director on scheduling rather than the Park and Rec.

      Don’t forget too that the Youth Soccer organization has purchased many of the goals that the high school and community uses. Twinight baseball helped raise money for the new field. These are the players that will eventually be on those fields and let’s put educating our children outside of the classroom as a priority too. Unless you think our children in the community should be pushed to the side so adults outside of Greendale can come in and use the facilities?

    • Richard

      The school trustees have to cut their budget by 1,400,000 dollars. Maybe it will be reduced to $700,000.

      Inquiring minds have found all these districts face much less in cuts. Why is Greendale facing such a budget deficit? What do the candidates think of this? Not the cut, but the drastic level of this budget shortfall that no one seems to take responsibility for other than to blame “the state” yet Greendale School System’s budget hole is much worse.

      If the school trustees can’t work out the youth sports fee, just wait for the clown show coming with the budget adoption and reductions.

  3. Keeping it Real

    As I read these comments about Park and Rec being self sustaining, then why would they need to charge a fee from youth sports? Driving through the village the DPW or school district summer employees takes care of cutting the soccer fields and dragging the baseball fields during the summer, none of which is a cost to P & R?

    As as far as the priority of the scheduling, the Park and Rec references the following policy on page 6 of the report that caused this uprising- ” The current School Board policy defines the prioritization of use of facilities as first priority given to the needs of the students of Greendale School District and second priority given to Greendale Park and Recreation.” Who do you think makes up 95% of the youth sports programs, students of Greendale Schools! Remarks were made that these leagues don’t object to paying the fees for players (for what I don’t know since custodial staff and DPW do the work), they just want to be prioritized as they should per the policy, which sounds like was the struggle before things changed recently. And I am sure this policy has been there for quite some time, just not being enforced until now.

    • Richard

      This raises a good point but not one many readers will support. That DPW and school custodians do the field work in the summer. If this is to be self sustaining as some desire, why not use a private service, outsource the work for a lower cost? The 1,4000,000 budget gap is forgotten in all of this.

      Also, make the user fees for sports and adult recreation mirror the actual cost rather than an artificial cost set by bureaucrats.

      What is the plan to reduce the budget other than the private meetings being held by management?

      • Keeping it Real

        Richard, I don’t know how much these youth organizations are actually putting to the $1.4 million budget gap, but if $5 per player helps, then let’s charge that. In my opinion, from what I have learned, I think they are helping from making that deficit bigger. Youth soccer purchases goals that are used by the high school teams so that eliminates a cost there. Twinight baseball helped fund raise to for the new field to help there. And if I recall, I think the youth football program donated more money to the new football field than the high school band and soccer organizations combined. These groups are helping but just in ways that people aren’t seeing cause they aren’t asking for recognition for it. Just to keep our children active and involved. I miss when out community supported each other even though they didn’t always agree. Seems like today everyone wants their way or no way and it is sad to see.

        • Richard

          Perhaps then the educats and the board of trustees should resolve this matter to put it to rest. They have bigger fish to fry like cutting 1,400,000 out of the school budget. If they can’t figure the youth sports out, what will they do with cutting even half that or $700,000?

    • Richard

      It is all user fees and taxes fellow voters. All user fees and taxes. The Greendale Trustees should follow the policy handbook or change the policy. They are in violation of their own policy so the policy handbook isn’t worth the cloud or paper it is written on.

      And so goes the credibility of the school trustees. They have policy and then they violate it.

  4. Richard

    Well said EG. Well said. The tradition in Greendale is for a wide range of groups to work together as much as possible for the common good of the community. It is part of Greendale’s DNA. However, the DNA of the Greendale School District has mutated.

    If Greendale electors return the incumbent to office then Greendale gets the governing they want. It could be that Greendale wants change and change not from the excellence of the past but the reality of today.

  5. Richard

    The Parks and Recreation Department was organized to be self sustaining. This appears to be a change in policy that the trustees support because they are being pressured. That is acceptable but they need to change their policy or continue in violation. After looking over their policy handbook, the CEO and by default the school trustees are violating their own policy.

    Gossip at the coffee shop is the school trustees are going to keep the CEO and if the management team gets new jobs so be it.

  6. Stephanie Mares

    Just one fact that should be noted. The Park and Rec department is expected to be self sustaining. Their programs are supposed to support themselves. The effect of giving all priority to youth sports and waiving fees could be devastating to the Park and Rec programs and, indeed, its continued existence in its current form. I have nothing against youth sports. They are a great part of Greendale and they, and the Park and Rec department have been co-existing very well for many years. I am certainly not against change or looking at things in new ways, but please consider the effect on a department which has done nothing but serve the interests of this community in such a positive way.

  7. The Conservative Voter

    It’s clear to The Conservative Voter that the school CEO (and the Board that retains him) may be the most divisive agent this community has ever had. His actions, and inactions, have fractured our fair community. How you create/oversee/permit conflict with fellow administrators, Village officials, veterans, voters, and sports parents is almost remarkable in its comprehensiveness. The school CEO doesn’t intend to create such controversy, as he seems like a pleasant fellow, but his ignorance of this community’s operations has allowed for these divisions and controversies. A larger, less parochial, community such as West Allis would likely be a better fit.

    • sandra

      No worries, he has a coach, Gibson!

  8. WI Mother

    Thank you, Bill, for the insight of last School Board meeting. What I get from this article seems to be Tharp is ruining the school district and our community, plus the relationship we’ve all had with the Park & Rec Dept. (and he is keeping his job in Greendale ?)

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