By MARY SWANSON
I'm not a resident of Ripley; I live in Sherman, and have for almost 30 years. I've been the Ripley Central School speech therapist for 15 years, counting my seven years here when I was employed by Board of Cooperative Educational Services as an itinerant.
I've been friends with some Ripley residents for decades and have been able to spend a lot of time in this community between my job and my friendships. I love Ripley as I love my own town of Sherman.
Some of you know how involved my family has always been in athletics. My husband has coached high school sports for over 35 years, and currently serves as athletic director at Sherman.
Although Sherman, like Ripley, is an itty bitty school, our four children all attended and graduated from excellent colleges on partial or full Division 1 and Division 2 athletic scholarships. I, and many other people in our community acknowledge and embrace the good things that can happen to kids who are involved in sports in high school.
The lessons athletics teach about working as a team, unselfishness, the value of hard work and commitment, not to mention the possibility to garner a college scholarship if a student's talent and academic standing are worthy. I've seen athletics keep unmotivated students coming to school, and ultimately graduate only because athletic participation kept them coming to classes.
I'm sure you've seen that situation more than once. I fear that if we tuition our older students, we're going to lose those kids.
The biggest concern I have, should we tuition our seventh to 12th grade students to Chautauqua Lake Central School, is that our kids will lose a huge opportunity. Without transportation, most of our athletes will be unable to continue to participate in sports.
I've heard that it takes 20 minutes to drive to Chautauqua Lake Central. Well, I took the trip recently, and in my car on clear roads, in daylight, following the speed limit, it was a 26-minute trip. If a Ripley student participates in athletics, clubs, or other extracurriculars at CLCS, parents will be driving nearly an hour a day, every day, to support their children's participation.
Or, maybe the students will be driving themselves. We all know what kind of weather we have in Chautauqua County from November through March, and how dark it is during those months as well, and driving time increases accordingly.
The hours those parents and students will spend driving will be mostly at night, and often very late, after buses bring students back from their games and matches, or after practice. I'm concerned not just about the hazards of daily driving back and forth in poor weather, but also that the expense would prohibit some families from attempting the trip, and their child would not be able to be involved in high school athletics or extracurricular activities at all.
It's a hard time for schools. Support for public learning for children has been attacked in every possible way. So many people are happy to say, "Let 'em go up to Chautauqua Lake. What else can we do?"
What I don't think we should ever do is remove Ripley's children from their community, forgetting that the most successful people are often those who participate in a wide variety of activities while doing 'their jobs' as committed students.
Their future rests with the voters of Ripley. I encourage you all to vote on Feb. 5 to keep our students here until they can be assured that the adults in their lives have looked carefully at all sides of the issue.
Mary Swanson is a Sherman resident and Ripley school employee.