COLUMN: Pennsylvania anthem controversy is really a look at scholastic sports

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At first glance, the news out of Pennsylvania last week was more than a bit upsetting at first glance.

In case you missed it, last Monday, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League issued a directive to 183 member schools in the central and western portions of the state that they should no longer play the National Anthem before high school hockey games.

Yes, I said high school hockey. There are some schools in Kentucky that offer the sport, but only a handful. Suffice it to say things are different in Pennsylvania, where the sport has a very strong popularity.

If you just saw the headline running across the bottom of your screen during your favorite news show, you might have been beside yourself. Not only was the mandate sent out to not play the Star Spangled Banner, but it went out on Veteran's Day. Some people might have thought Vladislav Tretiak had taken over the state's governing body.

But it really did not have anything to do with patriotism or political correctness. At least, the published reasoning didn't.

It was simply a move to save money.

Many high school hockey teams have to rent rinks, which, according to Yahoo Sports, can run in the neighborhood of 300 bucks an hour. Some games have been halted when ice time was over and the stated culprit in one of the shortened games was an "overly verbose rendition of the national anthem."

It's easy to criticize from the outside. From this corner, I probably would have looked for another answer, such as shorter intermissions or shortening the three periods by, say two or four minutes each. But no one asked me.

The powers that be in Kentucky probably wont ask me for my thoughts either, but after being in this business since 1985, I have come to realize varsity sports are not cheap. There are constant expenses, some of which you aren't likely to think of until you are hit with them the first time.

It makes no difference if it is hockey or basketball or baseball. There are unforeseen bills.

Don't think so? Ask the Anderson County football program, which was caught without a decent scoreboard for its home opener this year. Ask the tennis program, which was forced off its home court when water got under the surface and a windstorm blew it apart.

Seeing all of those real-life scenarios over the years, it is not hard to understand why Pennsylvania moved in that direction, even if you don't agree with what was cut out.

A scholastic sports reality check is going to be coming soon. It could be very soon.

Translation: Taxpayers usually foot the bill and, contrary to the opinions of some, the money well is not immune to running dry.

Unless you have been exiled to another planet for the last few weeks, you know the country is close to what is being popularly labeled a “fiscal cliff.” Taxes are going up, spending cuts are coming. Common sense says those cuts might affect high school sports.

Yes, it is true that states run the public schools and their programs, but states also qualify for federal grants. The federal government also oversees many scholastic programs, including Title IX, which is to guarantee equal funding and opportunities for all.

If you think what happens in Washington won't eventually affect scholastic sports, you are probably also living in the land that thinks Nick Saban will be the next football coach at the University of Kentucky.

For the record, I believe every kid should have the opportunity to participate in sports. But reality says someone has to pay. With funds becoming tighter, it might be time to evaluate whether a school can afford certain sports or activities.

What the answer is, we might never agree. But reality says belt-tightening is coming.

Just like in Pennsylvania, whether we like it or not.


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