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Saddleback Valley Board Will Consider Cuts in Athletics : Budget woes: Seven programs at four high schools could be eliminated.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don Stoll has been the water polo coach at El Toro High School since 1979. His son, Brent, is a freshman water polo player at the school.

But next fall, not only could Don Stoll be out of a coaching job, his son could be out of a program.

Tonight, the Saddleback Valley Unified School District’s board of education will begin a discussion regarding the fate of seven athletic programs at the district’s four high schools.

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On the chopping block are boys’ and girls’ cross-country, boys’ and girls’ tennis, water polo, wrestling and golf at El Toro, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo and Trabuco Hills high schools. The board will consider the possibility of cutting those programs at its meeting tonight.

“Brent has played water polo for seven years and was hoping to play in college,” Stoll said. “Is he suppose to stop playing water polo?”

Because the district must cut $4.8 million from its budget, the board has asked for a $150,000 cut in athletics. By dropping the seven programs, the district would be cutting an estimated $166,964, according to a district official.

A final decision will not be reached tonight.

The sports were selected from discussions among four high school principals, according to Laguna Hills Principal Wayne Mickaelian. He also said the principals consulted their athletic directors before making their recommendations to the district office last week.

Still, the proposed program cuts caught most coaches by surprise.

“The first I heard about it was Thursday and, frankly, I was shocked,” Stoll said. “We would have 476 kids, at our school alone, without a program. Multiply that by four schools and you’re looking at about 1,600 kids wandering around the Saddleback Valley.

“They have to make cuts, but I’m not in favor of anything that eliminates kids from a program.”

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Mickaelian said he understood how the coaches felt, but that the district was in a bind. Athletics is just one of 32 areas where possible cuts will be discussed at the meeting.

“We’re talking about cutting athletic and academic programs,” he said. “There’s a $4.8 million shortfall, so everyone will be taking a hit.”

Diane Hale, the girls’ cross-country coach at El Toro since 1976, said she learned Friday her program could be in jeopardy. She said by cutting the program, the district would be saving only a minimal amount of money.

The El Toro cross-country program raises money for its uniforms. Transportation costs are assumed by the team members.

“There’s no equipment in terms of bats, balls or helmets,” Hale said. “We do it all with fund raising. If we want to buy the kids T-shirts, we have to raise the money ourselves. If we want to do anything, we have to have fund-raisers. We raise the money for the uniforms and the kids are paying through the nose for transportation.

“So what expenses are they saving?”

The only savings would come from coaches’ stipends, according to Trabuco Hills cross-country Coach Jack Recla.

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Like El Toro, the Trabuco Hills cross-country athletes pay $60 per year toward transportation costs and the uniforms for the team’s 35 runners are paid for through fund-raisers.

The total savings by cutting Recla’s stipend and the money that goes to his two assistant coaches, both of whom are walk-ons, would be $3,600, he said.

“I haven’t seen any formal list saying we’re going to be cut,” Recla said. “I just hope it gets resolved before they start cutting athletic programs.”

That would be disastrous, according to Stoll. He said a situation could arise where students will be going to other schools for athletic purposes.

“Capistrano Valley still has a water polo program and a good one,” Stoll said “Santa Margarita is right down the street and they’ll have all those programs. How many kids will choose a school because it has a good athletic program?”

Stoll said he has heard from many parents who are upset by the possibility of athletic cuts. Other coaches said they have had similar calls from parents.

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“My telephone has been ringing off the hook,” Hale said. “People around here are most upset. They’ve seen their kids work so hard, and now this happens.”

Said Stoll: “This is a topic of great interest in this area and they’ll be a lot of people there to speak out at the meeting.”

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