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For sale: high school sports PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 30 June 2010 15:45

Judge blesses commercialization of high school sports by ruling access to games can be sold and news coverage restricted

In explaining his flawed decision, a federal judge confirmed our worst fears about the future of high school sports: “Ultimately this is a case about commerce, not the right to a free press.”

Commerce indeed. Judge William Conley’s ruling giving the Wisconsin Interstate Athletic Association the right to sell exclusive rights to images of high school sports relegates teenage amateur athletes to the status of entertainers and speeds high school sports down the slippery slope toward the commercial contamination that afflicts college sports.

The decision supports the WIAA’s claim that it owns high school tournaments and has the right to limit public access to these events through the news media.

The organization has an exclusive agreement with a company called When We Were Young Productions that shows live video of high school games on the Internet. When the Appleton Post Crescent put live coverage of football playoff games on its website, the WIAA sued that newspaper and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, of which Ozaukee Press is a member.

The judge’s assertion that upholding the WIAA’s claim that it has the right to sell images of high school games does not limit freedom of the press is an impossible stretch. The decision restricts the means by which the press covers high school sports; it denies the press the freedom to use technology that is increasingly part of newspapers’ online news coverage to deliver information to the public.

The courts should not be able to tell news media how to cover these public school events.

The public loses twice—as consumers of information gathered by the press and as the rightful custodians of high school sports.

Taxpayers fund high school sports programs, pay the coaches, buy the equipment, cover teams’ expenses and build the sports facilities. The boys and girls who take part in high school sports are the last pure amateurs in sports. Their families invest their enthusiasm and their emotional support in the school sports programs that provide joyous moments and precious memories.   

High school sports belong to the public in every way. They are not the property of an organization to sell for its own enrichment.

The WIAA seems to want to model itself after the NCAA, which has commercialized college athletics by selling sponsorships of games to the point where college sports are barely distinguishable from professional sports.

Robert Dreps, Wisconsin’s preeminent First Amendment lawyer, who represented the Appleton newspaper and has represented Ozaukee Press, clearly expressed what the judge missed when he wrote:

“School children are not entertainers and their athletic contests are not commercial events like Packers or Brewers games.

Taxpayers support interscholastic athletics, including tournaments, for their educational value, not commercial value.”

Chicken Little lives PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 23 June 2010 16:32

Ridiculous school disciplinary policies like the one in Rhode Island banning tiny toy soldiers reflects a fearful society that sees threats everywhere

You know that a policy is hopeless when such political opposites as veterans groups and the ACLU agree it is really stupid.

That policy is the one that caused a Rhode Island school district to ban a hat decorated by a second-grader because it violated a no-weapons rule by displaying toy soldiers holding miniature guns.

Veterans organizations complained the treatment of 8-year-old David Morales was disrespectful of the military and a National Guard general gave the boy a medal. The Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU said the school violated students’ right of free speech.

The district’s school superintendent tried to explain by saying the incident “exposed how a policy meant to ensure safe environments for students can become restrictive and present an image counter to the work of our schools to promote patriotism and democracy.”

The explanation is as foolish as the policy. What the incident really exposed is how a Chicken Little-mentality that sees threats everywhere is repressing reasonable standards of right and wrong and common sense in schools and other institutions.

David was assigned to make a hat for a school event in which his class would meet pen pals from another school. When he came to school with American flags and Army figures glued to a camouflage baseball hat, his teacher raised the alarm over a violation of the no-weapons policy. The “weapons” were plastic rifles a fraction of an inch long in the hands of the little plastic soldiers.

The hat nonsense is only the most recent of many examples of the broadening of the definition of threatening behavior to ludicrous extremes.

In Delaware’s largest school district, a 6-year-old boy was punished and ordered to be pulled out of his first-grade class and sent to a special disciplinary school because he brought a Cup Scout camping utensil with a small foldout knife to school.

In other school districts, grade-school students have been expelled for bringing squirt guns to school, high school students have been  arrested and handcuffed by police for taking part in a food fight and middle school students have faced prosecution as sex offenders, with the possibility of having their names put on a state’s sex offender registry, for slapping a girl’s buttocks.

The school districts in and near Ozaukee County have avoided this sort of thing, to their credit, yet even here it is evident that behavior by children and adolescents that used to be handled with school detentions and suspensions is now considered serious enough to warrant police intervention. In Port Washington-Saukville schools, for example, misbehaving students are sometimes punished by being given municipal citations and fined.

The Chicken Little-syndrome is increasingly afflicting not just schools, but American society in general. Edwin Meese, who was regarded as a tough law-and-order attorney general under President Reagan, is now on a mission to reverse what he calls “the overcriminalizaton of America.”

Meese cites the arrest and handcuffing of a 12-year-old girl for the offense of eating a single French fry on a Washington subway and the prosecution of other microsopicly trivial misbehavior as examples of intolerance on the part of authorities that is turning generally  responsible citizens into lawbreakers.

Given this trend, it is not surprising that behavior that is merely wrong rather than dangerous merits ever harsher treatment. Consider the case of the 17-year-old who pulled a classic dumb-fan trick and ran in circles on the field during a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. Police chased him down and subdued him with a Taser.

You wouldn’t expect a country proud of its bold, independent spirit to live in fear of children bringing toy soldiers to school and teenagers showing off at a baseball game. It’s time to refresh that spirit. A good way to start would be to replace overweening, politically correct disciplinary policies in schools with something that resembles common sense.

Make history PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 16:09

Working together, the city and the Historical Society can put an historic building to its proper use and create an invaluable community asset

The historic firehouse soon to be vacated by the senior center should become a museum created and managed by the Port Washington Historical Society.

Easier said than done.

The uncertain future of the firehouse building, a problem that is currently vexing the Common Council, is an unintended consequence of a complex real estate transaction meant to keep an employer from leaving the city and boost the downtown economy.

As part of the deal, the senior center will be moved to a church that had been remodeled as the headquarters of Franklin Energy Services. Franklin will move to larger quarters on the second floor of the Smith Bros. building in downtown Port Washington.

This is happening because Franklin said it would likely leave Port Washington if the city didn’t take the church building off its hands. The city responded by agreeing to lease the building and make it the senior center if Franklin agreed to rent the Smith Bros. space.

The deal is a bold move, spearheaded by Mayor Scott Huebner, that stands to benefit the city by keeping needed jobs, energizing the downtown with the daily presence of Franklin’s 50 employees and putting some life into the Smith Bros. building, a Port Washington icon that has been embarrassingly moribund for years.

But there’s a loose end. The church will be a more spacious and up-to-date facility for seniors, but it will cost the city $221,600 to rent for the next three years plus the expense of installing an elevator. The deal as approved by the Common Council is premised on much of this cost being offset by the sale of the firehouse. Now the Historical Society is asking to lease the building for a dollar a year.

An unintended consequence, but certainly not an unexpected one: The idea of the society eventually taking over the firehouse has been talked about for years. The departure of the senior center makes it a logical step now.

There are good reasons to put the building in the hands of the Historical Society. The most important is that the society is proposing to make the firehouse a museum of the history of the community and its fire department and of the maritime history of the region.

The key word is maritime. A maritime museum is the missing piece in Port Washington’s appeal as a tourist destination. Coastal communities from Maine to California have reaped benefits for their economies by satisfying the public’s desire to view artifacts of the fascinating world of seafaring history in a seaside setting.

In Port Washington, a maritime museum would be a reason to visit the city in the cold months and in summer would answer the visitors’ question of what to do after enjoying the lake views and going fishing.

Establishing a maritime museum here has been considered so important that an organization, the Port Washington Maritime Heritage Experience, now inactive, was devoted solely to that purpose. A new building to house a maritime museum was one of the leading suggestions for the coal dock property.

The firehouse is a piece of history in its own right, an architectural gem of the Mediterranean Revival school built in 1929 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nothing would be more fitting than having it under the stewardship of the Historical Society.

But if the society expects to be granted preferred status over potential buyers, it will have to come up with more than a dollar a year and a promise to take care of the building’s deferred maintenance.

The society should give the city a commitment to establishing a full-fledged maritime museum and prepare a business plan outlining how it would manage it. Merely making the firehouse the home of the Historical Society won’t cut it. The museum is essential.

The society could enhance its standing as the potential lessor of the firehouse with a plan to venture into the real world of thriving non-profit organizations by appointing a development director to guide it in fund raising, grant writing and bank financing.

For the city’s part, it should drop the stance that the society will have to match a private offer to get the building. It should recognize that there is more value to taxpayers in having a museum run by a non-profit organization than having the firehouse property on the tax roll with a private owner.

And it should acknowledge that the Historical Society has earned consideration to be the steward of the firehouse with its splendid achievement of restoring and making accessible to the public the 1860 Light Station and its other contributions to the community.

The best outcome for all concerned would be that the Historical Society gets the firehouse. The city and the society must both work to make that happen.

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