Any occupation of that perilous piece of real estate between "necessary" and "frivolous" expenditures, otherwise known as a school budget's demilitarized zone, is like watching a tennis match now: Forceful volleys back and forth, bystanders' heads moving left and right, spinning at the subjectivity of it all.
This much we know, though: We should all stand on the same piece of the town green in unyielding belief that the only issue more relevant than educating our kids is their safety. And all its tentacles.
Which is what makes this upcoming school year a case study for schools within the Eastern Connecticut Conference to consider employing full-time athletic trainers.
This comes in the wake of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital's recent decision to terminate its sports medicine program, leaving six high schools and two colleges in the region scrambling to find coverage of their games and practices with medical personnel.
This is quite serious, given how concussions alone have become a national cause célèbre and how litigation has replaced baseball as our national pastime.
"Our sports medicine staff worked countless hours with the school teams they served, often covering more and more games and/or practices than originally requested," L&M spokesman Mike O'Farrell said Wednesday. "The result was a program that was no longer sustainable."
Essentially, L&M was paying its trainers more than the schools were paying L&M for services. One hospital source said, "One school was paying us $8,000 for a trainer that was working 60 hours a week. Let's just say we were paying that trainer more than $8,000."
It is tempting to portray L&M as a heartless corporate monolith. Except there's a question to be asked before the parade route of righteous indignation: Don't school systems bear the responsibility of keeping children safe significantly more than L&M?
L&M informed East Lyme, Old Lyme, Ledyard, Montville, New London and Stonington high schools as well as UConn-Avery Point and Mitchell College in early June of its decision. The urgency of the upcoming school year has reignited the issue. L&M staffers' long hours and relatively inexpensive rates have given school officials sticker shock in finding other medical staffing.
"It's like when you're having work done and then you have to go out and get a new contractor," Montville athletic director Walt Sherwin said. "If somebody goes out of business, now you've got to go to another supplier. That supplier's cost structure is going to be different."
Virtually all school officials involved say they will have trainers for fewer hours at higher costs this year.
"Will we have people there as often? No," Sherwin said. "L&M was giving us absolutely great coverage. We're set to contract for a certain number of hours. In a perfect world, all schools would have an athletic trainer that's part of the staff, maybe teaching health or phys ed, too. All the schools are scrambling now. Everybody got dumped."
Sherwin echoed what his colleagues believe is a burgeoning issue around athletics: The necessity of full-time trainers.
"We have more than 500 kids playing sports. That's 54 percent of the school population," Ledyard athletic director and football coach Jim Buonocore said.
And this is where school administrators and boards of education need to pay attention. A majority of their students play sports. The more hours athletic trainers commit to education and care, the better the overall health of the students.
"In the last five years, we had a trainer every single day. You become dependent on that," Stonington football coach A.J. Massengale said. "Kids get injured. It's going to be more cumbersome to figure things out. How can we be sure the extent of an injury with our limited understanding of it?
"We're without a trainer and we're trying to figure out how to manage it," Massengale said. "Bryan (athletic director Bryan Morrone) and I have talked about it. We'll have coverage in place for games. But the day-to-day stuff, we'll miss them."
Montville football coach Tanner Grove: "The biggest thing for me is the follow-up on an injury. A kid gets beat up good on a Friday night, or heaven forbid gets a concussion. Before, when a kid had a concussion, the trainer was the first line to get him through. Now if a kid gets hurt on Friday, we've got to get the kid out to a doctor in town. Paperwork, doctors' notes, visits, referrals. That's what trainers do. I can't even imagine what'll go on now to get a kid cleared to play on a Friday night if he needs something like an MRI."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.