Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 31, 2013

Editorial: No dismount wanted for boys gymnastics

The Andover Townsman

---- — The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has decided to end recognized competition among high schools that have boys gymnastics teams. The decision will force the boys varsity teams to be only club teams next year, or for boys to join girls varsity teams, according to those involved. It’s a decision that seems to have nothing to do with the kids who participate, and everything to do with eliminating a bit of paperwork for state-level officials. It’s a decision that should be reversed.

Andover is one of the seven Massachusetts towns that offers a boys varsity gymnastics team. In fact, our program dates back to the Big Band Era. Steve Sirois, the Andover High boys varsity gym coach for three decades, could tell countless stories about what the team has meant to athletes over the years.

For a standout like Andover High’s Brian Manning, the program has allowed him to be recruited by big name schools such as Penn State and Ohio State. For most members, of course, the program is a place where they can learn focus, and enjoy the company of friends. Like any after-school activity, gymnastics can be the thing that makes high school special for certain teenagers. It can be the reason a struggling student keeps coming to school, or the way a transplant to town meets a solid close-knit group of friends. It can teach kids a lot about themselves while they think they are learning about something like how to dismount the rings.

It would be one thing -- not the right reason, but a practical one -- if the team had to be eliminated because of financial issues. We’d all love to offer kids every opportunity possible, but sometimes budgets are tight. Tough decisions have to be made, and programs with limited followings get cut. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Several Massachusetts communities with long-standing boys gymnastics programs, including Andover, want to see the sport continue as is. Their school systems and taxpayers are offering full support for the teams.

The MIAA cites limited participation and the fact that the National Federation of State High School Associations will no longer write rules for boys gymnastics as the reason it will no longer recognize boys gymnastics. The MIAA doesn’t want the state level to have to write the rules. But why does someone even need to rewrite the rules each year? What really needs to change? Nothing, as far as we can see.

Let the meets continue. Let the boys have their longtime team. Not everyone excels at basketball, or drama or robotics. For some, gymnastics is the perfect extra-curricular activity.

There’s no reason to take it away.

Tobacco taxes go up in smoke, not into cessation

Andover was one of the first communities outside California to ban smoking in public places. The commitment to smoking cessation programs is very real here.

So many residents are likely to be disappointed -- if not exactly shocked -- to lear nthat the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom based at Boston University, has found that less than 1 percent of the tobacco money coming to Massachusetts is being used to support anti-smoking efforts. The rest — 99 percent — goes into the general fund.

Massachusetts got $254 million in tobacco settlement money in 2012 and raked in $561 million in tobacco taxes. Yet of that $815 million, the state will spend just $4.2 million in 2013 on smoking cessation and prevention programs, NECIR’s Beverly Ford reported in our sister paper, the Eagle-Tribune.

Ford reports Center for Disease Control figures that show more than 9,000 Massachusetts residents die annually from smoking-related diseases and yearly health care costs associated with treating tobacco-related illnesses in the state have risen to $3.9 billion. The CDC estimates that it would take $90 million to fully fund cessation and prevention efforts in Massachusetts. The $4.2 million the state is spending is just 4.6 percent of what’s needed to meet the CDC standard.

Lois Keithly, director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, has seen her budget slashed by $50 million from a peak of $54.3 million in 2000.

Clearly, the government’s interest in tobacco taxes is not about getting smokers to quit. It’s about getting more money to spend.