Clark: Dysfunctional politics may cost Cahokia athletics

SHARE Clark: Dysfunctional politics may cost Cahokia athletics

Their high schools are hundreds of miles apart, but Moshood Adeyemo and Marlin Brady are friends — and friendly rivals.

Adeyemo is a senior sprinter for Hillcrest and Brady is a junior who runs middle distances and relays for Cahokia. They’ve had some spirited battles on the track in recent seasons, with Hillcrest beating out Cahokia to win Class 2A titles in 2009 and ‘10 and the Comanches earning state championships the past two seasons.

“I know them,” Adeyemo said at last weekend’s Dick Beebe Track Classic at Homewood-Flossmoor. “I’m cool with them. I’ve known them for the whole time [in high school]. I know Marlin Brady, all of them.”

So it was hard for Adeyemo to hear what might be in store for Brady and the rest of Cahokia’s athletes. The Cahokia school district, citing the possibility of declining state aid, has announced plans to drop sports and all other extra-curricular activities at the end of this school year if its financial situation doesn’t improve.

“It’d be terrible,” Adeyemo said. “They need to keep it going because it’s one of the best things about school.

“They can’t take that away from them.”

But it may happen, and the kids in Cahokia could be victims of the collateral damage from Illinois’ dysfunctional politics.

The state’s finances are a mess, partly because of an under-funded pension system that the Democrats who control both houses of the legislature seem unable or unwilling to reform. With pension obligations eating up more and more revenue, bills aren’t getting paid. Promised funds aren’t getting to school districts like Cahokia that desperately need them to maintain the programs every school should have.

Governor Pat Quinn is not part of the problem, having used his bully pulpit in an attempt to nudge the House and Senate to move on pension reform. Quinn also backed an income tax increase that has helped to keep the situation from getting worse, though it may cost him his job at the next election.

It would be nice if some other Illinois politicians would show the same kind of political courage as Quinn and do something to help save the programs that are being cut back.

That includes high school sports. I’m sure there are plenty of people around the state who see this as a luxury Illinois can’t afford. But that kind of thinking is sadly short-sighted.

There is a lot of talk these days — rightfully so — about the importance of after-school programs and how vital they are to keep kids off the streets and on a positive path.

There is no more widespread and cost-effective after-school program for teenagers than high school sports. The infrastructure is already in place, the coaches are ready to do their job and, most importantly, these are activities that kids gravitate to naturally.

For some of them, sports are a lifeline, a ticket out of a tough neighborhood and a way to pay for a college education that fewer families can afford on their own.

We are doing our kids a tremendous disservice if we take this away from them because some adults in Springfield are more worried about getting re-elected than doing the right thing for the long term.

The money woes aren’t just on the Democrats. This issue has been around a while and Republicans could help solve the problem by deciding that fixing Illinois’ finances can and should be done in a bipartisan way. Then legislators in both parties could get together to make some of the hard decisions needed to help get the state back on the right track.

It’s not too late to make those tough calls. But the clock is winding down for Moshood Adeyemo’s buddies. Putting Marlin Brady and his teammates on the sidelines would be a huge mistake — all the more because it could be avoided.

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