Athletic programs avoid peril, for now

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on the state of the foothills’ athletic programs one year after a series of lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union threatened high school sports as we know them. Today we focus in on Del Oro and Bear River.

Del Oro High’s sparkling stadium, state-of-the-art scoreboard and new track often draw oohs and ahs from visiting players and fans. Across campus is gymnasium, which looks virtually brand new.
The Golden Eagles’ success in everything from football to wrestling to girls water polo and track and field shows those facilities are being put to good use. But even an athletic department that is a model for others around the region is feeling the budget pinch in 2012.
“We’re doing OK, not great,” said Del Oro athletic director Justin Cutts, who took over last spring, shortly after schools were strictly forbidden from collecting fees for athletic participation. “We’re a little better off than some other schools. Right now, it’s sport by sport and we’ll have to look at it at the end of this school year and see if we’ve got to cut costs for next year.”
Much of the funding for Del Oro’s stadium renovation came from private donations and fundraisers. The Placer Union High School District loaned the school money to finish the project and those funds have since been paid back through usage fees charged to organizations not affiliated with the school.
In 2008, Del Oro started a reserved seating program for football games that has been successful in raising thousands of dollars – some of which was used to improve the visitors’ bleachers prior to last football season. The money raised through the reserved seating program goes to the school district, which uses it to maintain and upgrade Del Oro facilities.
Cutts said those upgrades have helped the Eagles draw fans and, in turn, pay for other expenses in the athletic department.
“The upgrades help in terms of the gates, getting more people here (for games),” Cutts said. “They definitely helped this year for football.”
Cutts said the school brought in around $36,000 from the Eagles’ five football games last fall. He’s hoping the total money from entrance fees for the year will be close to $60,000. That money will go toward coaches’ stipends, the rest of which will be paid for through donations, fundraisers and help from the school district.
Donations also cover costs for officials and transportation costs, which have been minimized in recent years.
“We hardly use buses, except for football and track,” said Cutts, who graduated from Del Oro and coached basketball at the school for 15 years. “It’s definitely not as bad as some other places, but we’ve cut back quite a bit.”

Bear River
The Bruins have felt the budget pinch perhaps more than any school in the Auburn area. Bear River dropped its skiing and snowboarding programs after last year and athletic director Duwaine Ganskie is working to make sure no other sports are drastically affected by the financial quandary.
“All the sources of funding — the school district, donations from participants, businesses, corporations and alumni, the gates — they’re all pinched because of recessionary factors,” he said. “It’s really complex, but we’re definitely feeling the pinch. Every revenue source is impacted.”
Ganskie said the school’s revenue from the gates pays for the officiating costs for the year. The Nevada Union School District covers a portion of coaches’ stipends and each team must raise funds to cover additional stipends.
The school has followed the trend away from using school buses.
“We’ve used buses less and less over the past 10 years or so,” Ganskie said. “Vans are cheaper and we’ve used parent drivers more and more. For some teams though, it’s impractical. We’ve been evolving toward more efficient, economical transportation and yet remaining safe.”
Ganskie said coaches, players and parents have all chipped in with fundraisers and extra efforts to help sports survive. The longtime basketball coach said high school athletics are still a great value in every way.
“The talking point I keep coming to parents and community members with is, high school sports are a great bargain compared to a lot of other youth activities,” Ganskie said. “But there’s definitely a user fee. Unfortunately the lawsuit that went down last year has hurt that concept that there needs to be a participating contribution. With that mindset in place, things were working. That has probably been the single biggest difference in our budget over the year and a half now.”