It’s official: I’ve started writing a monthly column for the local newspaper, the one serving our beloved twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn. It’s called RiverWatch (my editors insisted I come up with a “standing head”) and you can read the second installment here. Be warned: Content at resides behind a paywall. I would encourage readers, especially those here in Maine, to suck it up and subscribe. For one affordable price, subscribers get all the news from Greater L/A, the state’s second largest metro area; everything from our sister paper, the Portland Press-Herald; plus access to content at the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal.

Here’s a teaser below: My most recent column fixates on the controversial pledges high school students are required to sign in order to play sports, participate in dramatic productions, or play in the band (spoiler alert: I’m against them, as they smack of coercion). As an addendum to that piece, let me say something else to high school athletic directors across Maine:

Please reinstitute the practice of cutting team rosters down to manageable sizes.

I covered high school sports early in my journalism career. Cutting kids from JV teams was de rigeuer 30 years ago, and for eons prior. Ten years ago, I was familiarized with more recent roster-management practices, here in Maine, once my kids reached their teens. What I discovered? Over the course of three decades, no-cut policies had largely won the day.

Some aspects of this issue remain uncontroversial: Why deny anyone the chance to play a sport? That sentiment continues to ring true — for 10 or 12 year olds. As kids get older and move along to higher grades, we can agree sports become a little less about participation and a little more about competition, skill development, college resume polishing and yes, winning.

By high school, coaches and the administration should not shy away from cutting a team down to practical size — so that boys and girls, especially on the junior varsity, get the game and practice time they need to improve. There were 18 girls on my daughter’s JV softball squad. So the coach sat 3-4 kids every game, in a rotation, to accommodate all those players. This undermines the whole idea behind a junior varsity: to develop players for the varsity. In the service of not hurting someone else’s feelings, kids who need the game-time experience aren’t getting it.

This probably strikes some readers, especially those uninterested in sports, as hopelessly small bore and callous. Yet the issue is more nuanced and frankly more broadly relevant here in Maine, where an entire 4-year high school might have only 250-300 kids. At schools this small or smaller, oversized rosters seriously limit a school’s ability to offer student bodies the widest possible range of extracurricular activities.

My daughter’s JV soccer team, for example, had 22 kids on it — including four seniors! (I didn’t even think seniors were allowed to play JV…) In any case, not cutting those half a dozen kids actually denied those very same girls the chance to experiment and perhaps find something at which they could excel, or maybe enjoy far more. If a kid gets cut from soccer, for example, she can try another fall sport like field hockey or cross country. Or she can do the play, or get involved in the Big Sister program.

In a perverse way, by trying not hurt their feelings, we are denying kids the chance to try and/or learn something new.

What’s more, administrations at Maine’s many small, rural high schools are obliged to actively spread kids around, lest certain activities be discontinued. If 22 kids are coming out for JV softball, turnout for the track or lacrosse team is invariably down, as are numbers in the band. At schools this size, it’s something of a zero-sum game. Meaning, it’s even more important not to carry bloated rosters.

Look, my daughter had largely positive experiences playing both JV soccer and JV softball. The coaches were great. Yet both teams were way too big, in terms of numbers, because a decision was made not to cut anyone. All to avoid bruising young egos.

Administrators should empower coaches to cut those kids, like high school coaches did routinely, for decades. Some kids might shed a tear, but eventually they’ll take their talents elsewhere and perhaps keep another school activity viable. In the short term, their parents might pitch a fit, citing the years and years they spent driving Suzie or Johnnie to soccer practice. In time, however, the kids and the school community will benefit.