High school teams play on despite shrinking funding
Say this for the School District 51 high school athletic programs: They’re getting by.
The programs’ funding continued to shrink last month when the District 51 Board of Education finalized a budget for the 2012–13 school year.
District 51’s general fund for the coming school year is $154 million, and high school sports programs at Central, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction and Palisade received a little more than $1 million to run high school athletics, which includes $774,423 in coaches’ salaries.
District 51 provided the sports enterprise fund, which helps cover operating expenses such as officials, game workers, travel expenses, facility rentals, food and lodging, just $20,000. The amount is down from $60,000 the past school year. The sports-enterprise allotment from the general fund has decreased 92 percent during the past six years. In 2006–07, the sports enterprise fund received $258,000 from the district.
No individual sports have been eliminated, as some feared could happen, during the funding decline.
But to meet operating costs for the district’s 74 varsity programs and 144 teams, parents, coaches, players and booster-club members have dumped increasingly more time into fundraising. And to bolster revenue, athletic fees were increased from $70 per athlete two years ago to $110 last season to $140 this coming school year.
To save on operational costs, some athletic programs continue to shave games off schedules. The result is continued athletics and a balanced budget.
“We’re getting by with the help of parents’ and coaches’ fundraising efforts,” District 51 athletic director Paul Cain said.
Operational costs have increased each of the past three years. In 2008–09, District 51 schools generated $439,473 through athletic fees and passes, gate receipts and miscellaneous revenue, which comes from the Grand Valley Lacrosse Club to pay for high school lacrosse.
For 2012-13, the district anticipates it will need to generate $576,000 to cover operating costs for high school athletics, with $295,000 expected to come from athletic fees and passes, $225,000 from gate receipts and $56,000 of miscellaneous revenue.
Fundraising money, generated from sales of products such as cookie dough and discount cards and games of bingo and Texas hold ‘em, goes into a school program’s student body account.
The district also allots $860 for supplies to each sport at each school — enough to purchase about five football helmets. That amount, Cain said, is down about 65 percent over the past four or five years.
“If you don’t fundraise, you can’t run a program,” Fruita Monument track and field coach Tom Goff said. “It’s that simple.”
Even as booster clubs raise money, schedules are cut.
For example, Grand Junction High School athletic director Ned Pollert said the Tigers’ junior varsity football team will play nine games this season, down from 10 a year ago, and the freshman team will play eight games instead of 10.
“We went through every sport,” Pollert said. “If you make all those cuts here and there for athletics, that’s a pretty good chunk of change.”
Pollert said the programs at times save more money by traveling to games instead of hosting them.
“It’s funny,” Pollert said, “but it’s actually cheaper to send a basketball team to Montrose than to have it hosted here.”
The difference? Here are the expenses, Pollert said, for a same-day trip to Montrose: two buses, plus mileage, for a total expense of around $120.
“If we host two basketball games, we pay for four officials, that’s $40 a piece,” Pollert said. “Then with clock people and book people, that’s triple what it would cost us to travel.”
Palisade High School coach John Arledge sees a bit of a contradiction.
“We tell the students, ‘Get involved, get involved,’ ” Arledge said. “But there’s a little asterisk: It’s going to cost you a fortune, and we’re cheap compared to other districts.”
Boulder County School District, for example, reportedly has the highest athletic-participation fees in the state at $185.
For District 51, athletic fees were $70 for at least 20 years, Cain said, before jumping to $110 last season and $140 this season. There is a family maximum of $500, which means a family cannot pay more than $500 for an unlimited number of children.
Yet, it all makes some coaches a bit concerned about athlete participation.
“I can see some kids not playing because of the fact they have too much pride to say, ‘Coach, I don’t have this money,e_SSRq” Arledge said. “The cost can be overwhelming, especially for a working-class family.”
Arledge said the increased fees are not a tax on the programs; they’re a tax on parents.
“Well, it’s definitely a hit on our own budget,” said Dale Hoaglund of Palisade, whose son, Levi, will be a senior on the football team and daughter, Lauren, will be a freshman cheerleader. Hoaglund works in the small-business collection center for CenturyLink. “It’s not only the fee, but we also pay for camps. I know the camp is an option, but when you take the cost of camps and fees, it’s a drain on families.”
Janette and Chris Durham of Fruita have four children, all of whom play middle school or high school sports.
“I think the fees are not excessive for how much you get out of it,” Janette Durham said. “And it’s far less than club sports.”
For example, Durham said the family recently paid $2,500 plus travel expenses so their daughter, Eiley, a senior-to-be at Fruita Monument High School, can play for the Colorado Thunder, a local club volleyball team.
“I wouldn’t want schools to think that my lack of complaining is a justification to keep increasing fees,” Janette Durham said. “But I’m not going to complain, because I want a kid to play, and if it costs a bit more, then it costs a bit more.”
The fee to play for the Palisade American Legion baseball team, managed by Dennis Compton, is $400. The season is 2 1/2 months long.
Compton said some club teams’ fees vary significantly based on whether coaches are paid or volunteer.
High schools, on the other hand, tend to find a way to cover the costs. Fruita Monument High School football coach Sean Mulvey said schools have booster-club funds that help pay for such fees.
“I don’t want money to be an issue on why a kid doesn’t come out (for sports),” Mulvey said. “That’d be terrible if a kid couldn’t come out because they don’t have the money.”
James Diamanti, a senior-to-be at Grand Junction High, is one of the state’s top college football prospects. And he’ll be paying for his own athletic fee.
Diamanti said he has jobs loading trucks for Wonder Bread and Hostess and working a desk job at Powerhouse gym.
“It’s just spending money and helping me pay for football,” said Diamanti, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive guard and nose tackle. “So, for me, the fees aren’t a problem.”
Fundraising efforts have come in numerous forms: setting up tables at Country Jam, providing lawn aeration, holding golf tournaments, bake sales, sports camps or poker and bingo nights, or selling discount cards.
And, of course, it gobbles time.
“We’re fortunate here at Central High School to have an amazing booster club,” Central volleyball coach Beth Nelson said.
Nelson said the school has set up bingo nights at the Grand Junction Bingo Hall, plus a summertime Little Warriors Volleyball Camp.
“It’s an opportunity to raise money for personal accounts,” Nelson said, “to have money for travel and extra expenses. The district cuts is what’s affecting traveling and schedules, so we try to raise money in our own SBA account.”
Sometimes help comes from where it’s least expected. District 51 baseball and softball teams expect to benefit from the Grand Junction Rockies.
Tim Ray, the Rockies’ general manager, said the club agreed to a provide $96,000 worth of baseball and softball uniforms to the schools over the next 12 years. On a rotating, needs-based schedule, each school in those sports will receive a new set of uniforms every four years. This coming school year, Cain said, a set of home or away softball uniforms will be given to the Palisade and Fruita Monument softball teams. Grand Junction received a new set of baseball uniforms this spring.
Ray, who was once an athletic director for the Natrona County School District in Casper, Wyo., saw District 51’s slim budget.
“I’ve just been so impressed with Paul Cain and District 51 for making the dollar stretch a remarkable way,” Ray said.
Fundraising seems to be a statewide sports-program saver.
“Once a month, all the district ADs get together and meet,” said Jim Thyfault, athletic director for the 18-school Jefferson County School District. “And everybody is in the same boat. They’re all being cut; they’re all having to raise participation fees; they’re all having to ask the coaches to do more fundraising. It’s the nature of the beast anymore.”
And fundraising, in football terms, can at times be the 12th man.
For District 51’s three Class 5A teams — Central, Grand Junction and Fruita Monument — fundraising covers travel expenses, which leads to a stronger strength of schedule.
In particular, the schools try to schedule Front Range teams. Take football: In all classes except six-man, eight-man and 1A, a wildcard points system is used to determine the 32-team state playoff bracket. More 5A opponents equals more points.
“Look at us last year,” Mulvey said. “We missed out on the playoffs by such a small margin of percentage points. If we only had another Class 5A school, whether it was a win or loss, and we would have been in (the state playoffs).”
Mulvey said it sometimes comes down to finding a 5A opponent and traveling a long distance or risk not making the playoffs.
And so, as funding cuts increase, the ability to fundraise is becoming as valuable to winning as athletic talent.
But athletic talent may be a moot attribute in certain sports, because the possibility of future cuts on sports looms.
“It all depends on state funding. ... If funding gets cut more, we’ll possibly be looking at cutting a program offering, because we’re running bare bones as it is,” Cain said.