New Bluffton high school deserves its own identity

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 14, 2014 

There's no denying the potential of scholastic athletics to forge a sense of community.

However, it is disappointing that some in Bluffton are placing sports so high on their list of considerations as attendance boundaries are drawn for a new high school in their community.

The Beaufort County Board of Education voted in October to build two new schools in Bluffton -- one for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and a high school with grades nine through 12 -- that would open for the 2015-16 school year.

At a recent meeting to discuss changes to attendance boundaries necessitated by the new schools, preserving a single athletics program between Bluffton High School and the new high school seemed foremost in many minds. Some favored a consolidated athletics department because, they say, it is fiscally responsible. Others argued that to divide the high school sports teams is to divide the community as well.

This sentiment didn't merely emanate from the Bobcat booster club.

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Town Councilman Fred Hamilton Jr. are among those who advocate solutions such as a mega-school spread over two campuses or a magnet program for the new high school where athletes would be transported to Bluffton High for competitions.

However, such solutions, while well-intended, are unfair to those who would attend the new high school. Further, they are as likely to breed resentment as preserve unity.

Consider that it is almost certain that the new high school will serve students who live outside Bluffton town limits. As such, municipal leaders who implore the Beaufort County School District to consider the community's wishes speak, ironically, on behalf of people who don't necessarily consider themselves a part of that community.

In fact, they attempt to speak for people who don't even live in Beaufort County yet.

The new Bluffton schools are deemed necessary not only because some area schools are near capacity, but also because population growth is anticipated. In other words, the district does not propose to merely slice the current high school in half; it proposes to provide for new arrivals, who might bring a different view of things.

As such, providing only a single athletics department for a population large enough to support two schools means fewer opportunities for students to participate in sports.

Students at the new high school don't deserve such short shrift. Neither do they deserve to be treated like commuter students attending a satellite campus of Bluffton High. Even if fiscal prudence demands that the schools share game facilities -- and that's been done countless times in countless districts -- the new school deserves an opportunity to forge its own identity. That includes its own mascot, sports teams and other extracurricular activities.

Deny that opportunity, and sooner or later, the families with students in that building will balk. Then, the situation will be far more divisive than any crosstown sports rivalry that begins with the new school's opening.

In fact, there's no reason that on-field rivalry should prick at the cohesion of the larger community. Most of the student-athletes some are so loath to divide grew up competing against each other in local youth leagues -- apparently without tearing Bluffton asunder.

The sentiment expressed by Sulka, Hamilton and others is borne of good intentions. What they refer to as the "Bluffton State of Mind" is indeed worth preserving. However, mega-schools and big-box athletics programs do not preserve that mindset; they contradict it.

More importantly, as the school district tends to the tricky and important business of setting attendance boundaries, their top priorities must be logistics and academics, not Bobcat athletics.

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