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Jason Salzman

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Chris Romer's Field of Dreams

Posted: 05/25/11 06:31 PM ET

On KCFR's Colorado Matters last week, mayoral candidate Chris Romer said he wants to "make sure we put sports back into middle schools."

This surprised me, because I had just watched my son, who plays on his DPS middle-school baseball team, lose badly in the playoffs to the kids from DPS' Hamilton Middle School. (The loss seemed like a bad dream to my son, and maybe it was, if Romer is right and his baseball team doesn't really exist.)

Radio host Ryan Warner, who conducted excellent interviews with both mayoral candidates, didn't ask Romer how he plans to put middle-school sports back in the middle schools, when they're already in the middle schools.

But fortunately I got the chance to put the question to Romer Monday night, during a debate on Colorado Now with Aaron Harbor.

Romer wasn't bothered at all by his apparent misstatement on the radio, saying he wants to "expand" the middle-school sports program.

Before posing my question to Romer, I had called John Andrew, DPS Middle School Athletics Manager, to find out more about the DPS program.

He told me it serves 5,000 kids this year, up from 1,700 in 2003, with teams in 30 middle schools. Thirteen sports are offered, including baseball, proving unfortunately that my son's repeated strikeouts were real.

Andrew said that DPS has the only program in the nation with funding from all the major sports franchises (Nuggets, Avalanche, Broncos, Rockies). They cover the entire budget, except fees.

But I knew the program doesn't cover all the kids who want to play sports, because my son was mercilessly cut from the team the first year he tried out.

So I asked Andrew how his program could be expanded.

He said the size of existing facilities prohibit much expansion, like adding a junior varsity program with games against other schools. He said possibly some sports could be enlarged, but what Denver really needs for kids' sports is a middle school sports center, basically a big indoor gym, like the 54,000-sq-foot Gold Crown Field House in Lakewood, which might cost something like $12 million. (Once such a complex is built, no small task but a doable philanthropic campaign, Andrew is confident he could raise funds to pay for programs expenses.)

Another way to expand the program would be to add sports for 4th and 5th graders, in elementary school, according to Andrew, which might cost $800,000 annually.

I told Romer and Hancock of this educational need, which a a mayor has a realistic chance of actually doing something about, and they both supported it, without proactively offering any ideas on how to pay for it.

Now that some of the facts are on the table about DPS middle-school sports, which came up because Romer was asked for a specific way a mayor could help the DPS, Romer should explain how he might pay for it. And Hancock should chime in.

(Watch the Romer-Hancock debate that includes the middle-school ports discussion on Channel 3 (K3 Colorado KCDO-TV) in two parts on Sunday, May 29, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Part 1), and June 5, at the same time (Part 2).)

 

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