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Money scarce for away-game buses

Placer football program short $13K in donations
By: Sara Seyydin
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Strict enforcement of pay-to-play regulations and state budget woes have dealt a blow to local high school fall sports programs. Placer High head football coach Joey Montoya announced to Hillmen parents last week that transportation will no longer be provided for players to away games. Parents and students will now be responsible for arranging their own. A nearly $13,000 shortfall in donations is to blame. In an e-mail to parents, Montoya said the funds, which were met through Participation and Transportation fees in years past, have not been raised as expected. With the school unable to require donations, little else can be done aside from asking for voluntary contributions. Riding on the bus together is important for the team morale, according to Montoya. “Obviously it’s a huge part of our preparation to the game in terms of mental preparation,” Montoya said. “They also ride together on the way home. That’s a big part of the team camaraderie after a big win or big game.” Without buses, every parent driver would be required to get cleared through the school and be insured for up to $100,000. Montoya said getting just a few parents to do that for camp is already very difficult, 50 or more on a limited time frame could be near impossible. He also said he is worried about the prospect of players riding together. “That is the last thing we want,” Montoya said. “A 16-year old guy with two other guys on the way to a football game. That is a recipe for disaster. Kids will be kids.” A recent lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the State of California reinforced that charging students to participate in sports, or most any other school-related activity, was illegal. As a result, the state cracked down on districts in which fees were being charged. The Placer Union High School District was among the many offenders. “We went from collecting $20,000 to only about $8,000. That is a significant change,” Montoya said. “Unfortunately the funds aren’t there. I think people have this idea that the funds will mysteriously show up, unfortunately it’s quite the opposite.” Even with money from the district, school and gates, Placer had a $77,000 budget deficit in athletic funding in 2009, according to Dave Marquand, Placer Union High School District assistant superintendent for Administrative Services. Donations were the bread and butter that made up the difference, according to Montoya. The football program is also required to spread their gate earnings among other sports at Placer. The Friends of Placer donated a new scoreboard for the football field in spring. Montoya said the $15,000 to $20,000 board was necessary to replace an outdated one from the early 80s. At the time of the donation, he and athletic director Mark Lee weren’t anticipating transportation would be a problem. He said any donation the program receives is always welcome and it is more or less up to the group that is donating how the money is spent. All of the other high school football programs in the district have raised enough in donations to afford buses to away games, according to Montoya. Scott Holbrook, of Auburn, whose son Patrick is on the varsity team, said he thinks the situation has probably been a wake-up call to many parents. Although he and his wife have already donated well over $500 to the program, Holbrook said he is hoping the remaining funds can be raised. “I was a little surprised. It’s frustrating as parents because we do put a lot of money in. $300 at the lift-a-thon, $75 for a pancake breakfast,” Holbrook said. Not all families are able to afford to make donations to the football program, which makes the crackdown on pay-to-play practices positive for some families, according to Holbrook. “We both have good jobs and can afford for our children to be involved in these activities, and they aren’t cheap,” Holbrook said. “I don’t think all parents are as fortunate.” Overall, Holbrook said he is thankful the players have been fairly insolated from the budget concerns, but he hopes parents can come up with a viable solution. “Both my wife and I work. Patrick is of driving age now, but that’s probably not going to apply for some of the younger guys,” Holbrook said. “I feel the community as a whole should be doing more. Education is more than just reading and arithmetic.” Placer High freshman football coach Jim Gray said he had a difficult time finding teams to play this year because so many other schools had cut their freshman football programs. He said pay-to-play regulations and budget cuts were the culprit. According to Gray, that probably isn’t on the horizon for Placer, but it does mean the freshman team will frequently be playing a different team than varsity. “I was talking to other coaches and we have all been scrambling around looking for teams to play,” Gray said. While he was able to make it work this year, Gray said he is worried more high schools will have to cut their freshman football programs. Montoya said since he sent the e-mail several parents have stepped forward to help with fundraising. Principal Peter Efstathiu was also able to give the football program enough money out of the general fund budget to pay for a couple of buses. Overall Montoya said he hopes the community knows they are getting the facts when it comes to Placer’s football budget. At this point, the program doesn’t have enough money to pay for transportation and donations are the only solution. He hopes the renewed fundraising efforts will be enough to put Placer back on the road. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com