District 51 trying to stretch money among four schools

A key for athletics in Mesa County School District 51 this school year will be creativity.

How can the four Grand Valley high schools spread the nearly $700,000 that was budgeted to be spent on athletics this year, and still not end up with a huge deficit in May?

“We are trying to be creative in ways to give kids the opportunities to participate and play while lowering some of our costs at the same time,” District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said.

With 22 sports offered in the district, it’s easy to see why Cain is trying to be creative to stretch every dollar to best serve the four high schools.

One area that is the easiest to save is in the sub-varsity level. Sports like football, volleyball, basketball and baseball have a freshman team in addition to a junior varsity and varsity team. In football and baseball, it’s been a money saving effort to cut back the number of sub-varsity games and keeping them close to home.

For example, Central’s freshman football schedule includes a home and away game with Grand Junction, Fruita Monument and Montrose. The Warriors’ other two games are home contests against Palisade and Eagle Valley. Grand Junction’s baseball team played only two games outside of the Grand Valley last season, both in Montrose.

But for football, in addition to not traveling far during the season, all of the sub-varsity teams have only eight games, which is two less than what’s allowed by the Colorado High Schools Activities Association.

“They cut the games back and that was definitely a budget thing,” Central football coach Vern McGee said. “As a head coach I would like to see them play 10 games because that’s what’s allowed by the rules.”

McGee said he understands why cuts were made a few years ago, but wishes he had those games for younger players.

“They cut six games from the four valley schools, and that’s 24 games where you don’t have to pay officials and that type of thing,” McGee said. “Yet 70 dollars is still the participation fee, so that was a way to catch up.

“But as a coach you want to play the maximum number of games that you can at the lower levels for the experience.”

McGee has a valid point given the fact his opponent Friday night, Grandview High School, has two freshman teams, one having nine games on its schedule, and the other with seven. By the time both groups get up to the varsity level, Grandview has the upper hand when it comes to playing experience.

“We are playing less than other teams around the state,” McGee said. “There are schools in Denver that have two freshman teams both getting 10 games. So that’s 44 kids getting starting time for all those quarters, and we are getting 22 kids for those quarters.”

Although teams might be taking a hit in the amount of time they see on the field, some of that has to do with the proximity to other schools.

In the Southwestern League, freshman volleyball teams have gone to quadrangular tournaments where four teams will play each other at one site. Cain said in the Western Slope League, varsity volleyball teams are doing something similar.

“We are tampering with some ideas that we are going to see if it’s going to work, because it’s kind of a trial period,” Cain said. 

Palisade has that exact thing happening on Oct. 10 when the Bulldogs face Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley in the same day.

But the budget is a tricky thing. It’s trying to balance how much is being spent with how much is being brought in through athletic fees, gate receipts and other revenue. The school district could raise the cost of athletic fees to the athletes, but that could create other problems, Cain said.

“We understand it probably needs to happen,” Cain said. “But on the flip side, a lot of families can’t afford it. So you don’t want to put (the fees) up so high that we are having to scholarship more kids.”

In the end, it’s about the athletes on the field or court getting the same opportunities as other high school athletes around the state. The district helps as much as it can, but quite a bit of the money spent comes from the teams’ own fundraising.

“We fundraise like crazy,” McGee said. “Country Jam is a big one for us, we’ve worked that the last 13 years as a way to make some money. We sell discount cards like everyone else, we worked the Fourth of July for the city. We work bingos with our booster club. But we need to do all of that because we spend at least $12,000 in fundraising money every year.”

McGee added a big part of that amount of money is for keeping the kids well equipped.

Even in tough economic times, McGee said he still makes sure his players have quality equipment.

“When I was an assistant we had a lot of kids getting hurt with shoulder injuries,” McGee said. “I made the commitment to buy the best shoulder pads and helmets that we can to try and prevent injuries. So fundraising has helped us afford to get six or seven new shoulder pads every year that are top of the line.”

Individual teams’ and schools’ fundraising is also helping the district offset a rise in transportation cost. Cain said everyone has been working together to keep the economy from affecting the sports programs.

“Our transportation costs have gone up and some of the coaches are having to supplement meal money out of their fundraising to help us out,” Cain said. “They’ve been great so far to work with that. So we are making it work, and it’s a joint effort.”


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