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Before the big race, we huddled and cheered wildly like the pumped-up teenagers we were. Castro Valley High's cross country team had an eight-year championship streak on the line in 1985, creating what felt like incredible pressure to win our league meet. We ran our hearts out, though rival San Leandro beat us by three points. The loss broke my 15 year old heart.

Yet my teammates and I certainly grew because of it, even if it took me years to see it that way. From then on we gave sweat and blood. Our coaches ran us after school, on weekends and throughout the summers, sometimes twice a day. Hard as it was, we had the time of our lives, winning five championships and reaching the state meet. More importantly for me, I made great friends and fitness habits I expect to last a lifetime.

That's why the recent wave of budget cuts breaks my heart even more than previous ones. Castro Valley schools recently eliminated financial support for athletics, joining scores of other districts forced to make painful cuts. There's hope our program can survive on donations but certainly no guarantee.

I don't fault schools for sacrificing sports when they can't even support classrooms properly. I don't even blame lawmakers or the governor, whose hands are tied by voter-approved constraints like Prop. 13. But I do know that we're going to pay a price for our collective failure to offer this generation the same opportunities that benefited previous ones.

As a teacher, I've seen countless teens gain maturity and discipline through athletics. Sports provide some students barely hanging on with the extra motivation to keep up in class. Take away their favorite part of school, and many will stop trying or drop out.


If we can't scrape together money to reasonably support education and by extension school athletics, kids won't experience a character-building defeat that will help them work harder in the future. Instead, they'll suffer indefinitely from missed opportunity and unfulfilled potential. They'll have every reason to conclude that an uncaring community has quit on them. Their elders need to work hard as a team to prevent a loss that will teach all the wrong lessons, because kids deserve and need to win, lose, cheer and grow.

With a Perspective , I'm Matt Johanson.