Prep Sports: Sports helping turn around schools

By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter

The Rockford Public School District just finished a highly successful year with their athletic programs.

In case you missed that, it was the Rockford schools. The fact that there were athletics to be had, let alone successful ones, is a story in and of itself.

The previous year, under the leadership of former Superintendent Dr. Lavonne M. Sheffield, the Athletic Department was under major scrutiny.

Facing a tremendous budget deficit, the district was looking to save money anywhere it could. One of the first places they looked to was the Athletic Department.

And in some ways, who can blame them? Debate raged on about the importance of athletics in the development of young men and women, something most feel can be absolutely crucial in shaping a good work ethic.

But despite those feelings, it was easy to look at the sad state of the athletic programs and understand the need to take a hard look at their worth.

Facilities were run down. Support was thin. Teams were underperforming. There were a lot of bad vibes around athletics, which makes it no wonder the district was looking at farming the programs out to the Rockford Park District.

But over the course of a year, under new leadership, the programs have thrived, as have the schools in general.

Athletic Director Mat Parker — with the help of Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Willis and assistant superintendents Matthew Vosberg and Ehren Jarrett — has breathed new life and excitement into the athletic programs.

Parker has given a clear vision and expectations to the athletic director at each school. Something that sounds simple, but the type of leadership that has been lacking for a long time.

In turn, each school has seen an increase in participation, support and competitiveness in each sport.

Add in the support of the long-dormant Rockford Sports Coalition, which has reemerged in full force in partnership with the new leadership, and big things are happening in athletics.

In all sports, big-time coaches are being brought on board at different schools to try to resurrect sagging programs, and the excitement is palpable.

New turf fields are being installed at the football stadiums at Rockford Auburn and Rockford Guilford as well, which will help give those stadiums a much-needed facelift and give them a big-game feel on Friday nights.

Sports is only a microcosm of what a school district is and does. The school district as a whole appears to be turning a much-needed corner, and that is in no small part thanks to its thriving sports programs.

From the July 18-24, 2012, issue

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