Save our sports.

That was the impassioned plea made by Palmerton residents, athletes and supporters who rallied outside the Parkside Education Center on Monday in protest of proposed athletic program cuts to the school district's 2011-12 budget.

The group, estimated to be about 453 people, initially gathered in the borough park. They then began their walk a short distance to Parkside, where they greeted school board members one by one with chants as they arrived for an executive session.

Resident Charles Burke said his daughter, a high school sophomore, includes her sports activities as part of her college portfolio.

"The only reason I went to work today is to pay taxes," Burke said. "They get rid of these (sports), I may be forced to put her in a private school."

Burke said he's outraged by the prospect that the board would even consider the cuts.

"It's unconscionable," he said. "Enough is enough."

Trevor Sherman, a high school junior and a member of the boys soccer team, said he has played the sport since the time he could walk.

"It hurts the school, and those of us who have spent thousands of dollars on cleats, soccer camps," Sherman said. "It's not fair to cut some of the sports and not the others."

Kristen Ahner, an eighth-grader at the junior high, said the potential cuts would do more harm than good.

"If they're cut, the school's going to face obesity, and then we're not getting the exercise we should be," Ahner said. "Sports are a good way to keep the kids off the streets, and to get scholarships."

Director Carl Bieling, who appeared to receive an earful from a resident as he exited his car on his way to attend the executive session, told the TIMES NEWS the group needs to plead their case to the state.

"They must go to Harrisburg," Bieling said. "It's not something the locals can control."

As she attempted to enter Parkside, director Susan Debski told the TIMES NEWS she was impressed by the dedication shown by the group, but added they can't have it both ways.

"I would like the sports to be saved," Debski said. "But, in order to do that, their taxes would have to be increased."

Throughout the demonstration, the school board remained in executive session, which, by law, is required to be closed to the public.

Tiffani Christman, president of the Palmerton Youth Wrestling Cheerleading Association, said she was pleased with the turnout.

"Four-hundred-fifty-three people signed in tonight, but I am certain many others showed up after we left the park and did not sign in," Christman said. "In addition, the track team, baseball and softball teams all had games and they were not represented."

Christman encouraged those on hand to attend today's school board meeting at 5 o'clock, which has been moved to the high school auditorium.

The PYWCA, along with the Palmerton High School Wrestling Club, spearheaded the assembly one week after the board discussed possible cuts to high school and junior high athletic programs.

At that time, the board as part of a five-hour budget workshop came up with another $145,221 worth of proposed cuts to next year's budget, which still left the district with over $1.2 million left to cut in order to approve next year's budget with a 6.8-percent, or 3-mill, increase. Of that amount, $71,975 was suggested to be cut from athletics that would eliminate high school wrestling, cross country, swimming, boys' and girls' soccer, golf, and tennis, along with junior high wrestling and cross country.

The PYWCA has argued that the proposed cuts could put the district in jeopardy because it could lose its membership status in the Colonial League, according to the organization's website.

A 3-mill increase would raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 46.64 mills. That would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000, would pay $2,332, $150 more than the $2,182 rate they paid in 2010-11.

The board is scheduled to adopt a proposed final budget by May 17. Final adoption is due by June 30.