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Loss of busing complicates middle-school athletes’ plans

Some School District 833 parents are upset over a decision to exclude seventh- and eighth-grade athletes from an afternoon bus route that had been offered in past years.

Michelle Julius, whose seventh-grade daughter is a member of the Woodbury High School cross-country team, said she received scant notice that her daughter would have to find other transportation from Woodbury Middle School to Woodbury High School to join her teammates.

“We were told a week before school started that they were no longer going to bus our middle school athletes to the high school,” she said.

In the past, seventh- and eighth-graders who were members of tennis, wrestling, cross-country or swim teams rode an afternoon bus to daily practice at Woodbury, Park or East Ridge High Schools.

Julius, who is the cross-country booster club coordinator of Woodbury Middle School, said it’s a significant disruption to pick up and drop off kids in the middle of the afternoon. Eight cross-country runners at Woodbury are affected, she said.

“It’s just tough,” she said. “We have a lot of working parents and it’s a lot of kids. We’ve organized a carpool that is working out so far. It’s just putting a lot of strain on parents.”

In an Aug. 20 email to head coaches, Woodbury High School Activities Director Jason Gonnion wrote:

“Unfortunately, this fall we will not be able to provide shuttle bus service from our middle schools to WHS for athletics. I have exhausted every possibility to try and make this service possible, but in the end, we cannot afford to contract out this service and the district is not able to provide this option for our middle school-aged athletes.”

In another e-mail, Gonnion said 44 middle school students participate in sports at Woodbury.

“Our Transportation Department is working through all student issues the first couple of weeks of school,” District 833 Communications Director Barb Brown said in an email. “Middle school athletes were transported last year when our start and end times were more accommodating to delivering students promptly. What they are currently trying to review is whether they have the same ease to transport students within the new route constraints. It will take some time to do so. Our activity directors are working individually with the families and coaches involved to support whether students can be where they need to be for participation in these early weeks.”

Phil Kuemmel, activities director at Park, said coaches informed parents of the change when kids signed up for fall sports.

“As families registered preseason, we shared that information with coaches,” he said. “We said, ‘We don’t know this for sure but this might be an issue.’”

Jon Hinzman, activities director at East Ridge High School, said it was too soon to tell how many students have been affected.

“I haven’t received that information on how students have chosen not to participate in sports because of the transportation problem,” he said.

At least 10 student athletes at Oltman Middle School have been affected, including cross-country runners. Swimmers practice at Oltman’s pool but depend on bus transportation to Park to use their weight room, Oltman Principal Becky Schroeder said.

“It’s just a disappointment for the kids who can’t participate because parents can’t pick them up at 2:30,” she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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