How decreased funding is affecting high schools nationwide
Reducing costs for transportation, apparel and lower-level coaching is how many athletic directors are handling this situation
The October issue of Coach & Athletic Director featured our second annual Athletic Director Spending Survey. Within this detailed piece featuring research data directly culled from athletic directors, the No. 1 issue our readers find most concerning today is a reduction in school funding.
Armed with this knowledge, we asked our readers what is the one area in their program most affected by a decrease in available funds for athletics. More than 550 people responded and the following represents the themes and areas most discussed, as well as some interesting antidotes.Two years ago our board chose to charge the athletic department for mileage and bus driver wages. We are a relatively small school with several sports. Our cost during this period has shifted $100,000! Teams are fundraising, cutting corners on uniforms, equipment, etc. One of the problems we face is the draining of our community. Businesses, private citizens and teachers are beginning to resent the constant fundraising of athletics in our schools. It is truly a sad situation.
— Rex Sponhaltz, Lakewood Local High School, Hebron, Ohio
My school system has discontinued transporting students home after games. Many of my players come from economically disadvantaged homes, and either there is no automobile in the household or the parents or guardians are working and can’t pick up their children. The extra burden now is placed on the coaches to make sure players get home safely.
— Earl Hester, Warwick High School, Newport News, Va.
Our biggest challenge in funding cuts is uniform replacement.
We are on a five-year uniform rotation and it has been extended to seven years because of lack of funds. It’s a good thing we bought quality uniforms in the past because we are getting the extra two years out of our existing uniforms. We have extremely supportive community members and they have stepped up through private donations to our uniform fund. Last season, a donor bought our football team new road jerseys. Through fundraising, BBQs, soup suppers and a fireworks stand, we were able to purchase the home football uniforms this year. We are waiting on new girls basketball uniforms and warmups at this time.
— Doug Piper, Lebo High School, Kansas
It takes at least half of the budget our board of education provides each year to recondition and replace helmets. The pricing continues to increase and there is no room for our budget to be increased to keep up with cost. This is concerning especially when there seems to be better products on the market, but we cannot afford to upgrade our equipment.
— Mark Scenters, Garrard County High School, Lancaster, Ky.
Not only have they cut out our budget for all sports, the district has a transportation fee. All students are required to pay the fee ($150 per sport) unless they can show financial distress. Now, parents tell their children they only can choose to participate in one or two sports. If they decide to participate in track, for example, we ask all team members to take part in the fundraiser or give $50. Add that to the transportation fee and you’re looking at $200 to start. Then, the athletes have to purchase their own warmups ($130) and shoes ($100). For a first-time athlete in track, that adds up to $430 before the season begins.
The problem becomes when students have an unexcused absence. In this event, I hold them out of the next meet. This leads to parents complaining about paying money when the child isn’t participating in all the meets, even though they signed the rules agreement, which spells out our policies.
— Benjamin Trombley, Kimball High School, Tracy, Calif.
Transportation has become the biggest issue. We have been forced to charter buses and utilize vans. The only funding we get from the district is for coaching supplements. We have created a booster club to partner with local businesses and run different activities to raise funds. We have been self-sufficient for two years now. We also have scheduled our games for consecutive days so we can get a discount charter bus that stays with us for three days at a time. This sometimes is cheaper than school busses. Because we live so far from the mainland (two hours), by chartering buses it keeps our students in school longer, and when they are on the bus, they can do their homework in a more comfortable environment.
On some occasions we have to use vans. The downside to vans is safety. We are not allowed to use anything larger than a seven-passenger van. It is cheaper but safety is a huge concern.
— Teresa Konrath, Marathon High School, Fla.
Our transportation budget is more than $100,000 each year and the economy is hitting us in this area the most. There are more families who cannot pay for this service, so we may be forced to do more self-driving to events, which will have a huge impact on the camaraderie of our athletic programs.
— Mary Ziegler, Thousand Oaks High School, Calif.
It is forcing us to stretch the life of equipment, uniforms and field maintenance to the point where it is almost embarrassing.
— John Simar, The Lawrenceville School, N.J.
With the tight economy, athletic departments are competing more and more for the discretionary dollars of individuals and businesses. Fan attendance is dropping, which reduces athletic department budgets. This affects all areas including transportation funds, which affects scheduling teams that are farther away.
Equipment must be safe and of lasting quality, and without sufficient funds it is difficult to afford these itemsthis often determines the programs getting cut and the ones remaining. With Title IX, everyone must have the same opportunities and often not just one program gets cut, but two so the programs are equal. Uniforms must be worn for more years and facilities are not as maintained to the standards I would like.
— Steven Friebus, Rogers College High School, Tulsa, Okla.
We have a lack of funding to replace our outdated equipment and uniforms, which now violate NFHS uniform policies. To generate some funding, our program created a relationship with local businesses to help with our fundraising efforts as they help host spirit nights and also promote our bigger athletic contests. We also have seen our participation rates grow, which in turn has brought a bigger fan base and generates more gate revenue. Through those efforts, as well as holding many other fundraisers, our program gained the funding necessary to allow our program to be competitive, even in the current economic state.
— Brian Bandurchin, Owings Mill High School, Md.
As I look at funding, we are forced to find different sources for equipment and uniforms. It is hard to get people excited about fundraising for our fixed costs like officials fees, so as I look at my budget, I budget for those items first. Then I try to work on alternative sources for our other variable costs like how much equipment I can afford, uniforms, etc.
— Pete Kittel, Brillion High School, Wis.,
Coach & Athletic Director Editorial Advisory Board Member
Several years ago our district cut all funding for our middle school programs, believing that the local youth programs (i.e. Pop Warner, Babe Ruth Baseball, Boys and Girls Club, AAU, etc.) would fill the void. It’s not working. What this has created is a travel team mentality, which is discouraging youth participation instead of increasing it.
Boys and girls who normally participate in a variety of sports are finding they haven’t been picked for the top team (the travel team) and instead of continuing with that sport and improving their skills, they are opting out. These selections are occurring as low as the fifth- and sixth-grade level and ultimately this will undermine our programs.
— Barry Bokn, Willamette High School, Ore.
Whether it’s putting off plans for an athletic trainer or eliminating assistant coach positions on the sub-varsity level, our athletic department’s ability to provide a safe experience for our athletes has been challenged with a decrease in the paid adults to supervise, plan for and lead our athletes.
We have met the challenge by designating finances for coaching certification (NFHS coaching principles courses) and taking advantage of the NFHS free courses to increase our coaches understanding of what is necessary to take care of our athletes. We have provided our volunteer assistants the same professional development opportunities.
It is the responsibility of the athletic director to keep his or her local board aware on a regular basis of the 14 legal duties of a coach and athletic department, and to paint a picture of how realistically that department is fulfilling those duties. Our athletic department is beginning to make some headway in a positive direction of regaining funding for assistant coaching positions and hourly-paid athletic trainers. It can be done … though it’s a slow climb back. In the meantime, educate those who are leading your teams.
— Chris Hobbs, Timothy Christian School, N.J.