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Sports teams work to fill funding voids

Community support funds high school athletics
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Coach Jennifer Wright is breathing a little easier knowing the Placer High girls volleyball team raised enough money to play this year. Since a recent American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit caused the state to crackdown on pay-to-play practices, schools haven’t been able to require students to pay for participation in sports. That combined with drastic cuts in education funding, has forced athletic teams in the Placer Union High School District to look at other ways of fundraising. Suds led to success At least for now, Wright said she foresees all athletic teams will need to rely almost exclusively on fundraising each year. “We just have an amazing booster club that has just been really, really organized,” Wright said. “We just let the parents and students know where we were at. We have actually been working our booties off. It hasn’t been easy.” To keep their team viable, the Hillgals went to work selling program sponsorships, planning a car wash and a junior high tournament. The car wash, held at Maidu Market a few weeks ago, raised about $3,000, according to Wright. It will go toward paying for basics, like officials, some bus transportation and tournament entry fees. While the booster club funds used to pay for extras, now the money pays mainly for necessities. The club also had a few thousand dollars in savings as a cushion. Wright said she hopes the team won’t have to deplete its savings in the coming years just to get by. Players and parents were all asked to pitch in their time to the fundraising efforts. “We wanted to provide opportunities for our kids to earn their money,” Wright said. “We appreciate the support in the community and that people acknowledge the sport is important.” Saving for a rainy day? While other teams have also amped up their fundraising, success has been varied. Mark Miller, Placer High varsity boys soccer coach, said the team is still about $800 short of covering its operating costs. The team tried a cookie dough fundraiser, but had little success. “I don’t believe it was the community’s fault, but more of a player/personnel issue,” Miller said. “We needed to put a little more effort into that than we did.” Miller also said, while it was worth trying, selling cookie dough probably wasn’t the most realistic fundraiser for a group of teenage boys. Miller, like Wright, has always tried to keep a few thousand dollars extra in the booster account to pay for the team to get new uniforms every four years. The soccer team has already cut bus transportation to away games. Now they rely on parent drivers, according to Miller. “There was a time when we had $5,000 in our booster account,” Miller said. “We were always trying to have enough to do new uniforms when it was time, which aren’t cheap. They are between $3,500 and $4,500 for something decent.” With the relative failure of the cookie dough sale, Miller is confident the Hillmen’s annual Italian dinner will be more successful. “Things are okay now, but my concern is that the more we keep pulling out of the savings now, the less we are going to have for later,” Miller said. Bus less, save more Placer cross country coach Randall Fee said he has eliminated about 50 percent of the team’s bus trips to save. Fee said he is only keeping buses for pivotal meets, when it is important all of his runners are together for coaching. He has noticed other teams, like the Del Oro cross country team, are cutting back on transportation costs, too. “A big part is the camaraderie of a bus trip. You can give them pep talks and get ‘em fired up,” Fee said. “I know they used zero buses and they have more runners than we do. Other schools are trying to cut back also.” Fee said he stressed to parents and runners how important it was to donate whatever they could. “We’ve been really successful in raising funds,” Fee said. “We brought in more than we spent last year.” Del Oro athletic director Jason Cutts said there has been a drop in donations at Del Oro. “Donations are down 25 percent from last year, which is pretty good when you compare it to some of the other schools like Placer and Colfax,” Cutts said. “We’ve been attacking it a couple different ways.” According to Cutts, the district provides the school with about $70,000, which covers a portion of coaches’ stipends. He said he doesn’t support cutting stipends because coaches already make cents per hour as it is. For now, Cutts said each school has been left to figure out how they will make do with whatever donations come in. “It’s hard to figure out what to do next because it’s kind of uncharted territory. The problem is we are all in such different realities. It’s hard to work together to collectively come up with one solution,” Cutts said. Cutts said he has been closely examining the budget and working toward solutions that won’t put the brunt of the problem on coaches or players. Cow chip bingo and an online auction are two benefit events Del Oro has slated for the year. Come together Shana McDonald’s daughter Kellyn is on the Placer girls volleyball team. She spearheaded the team’s car wash. McDonald said part of the reason for its success was each of the girls raised $50 or more in pre-sale donations. Families aren’t being asked to donate any more than in years past, but with some no longer paying, coming up with the money as team is more of a challenge, according to McDonald. “Quite frankly, from my perspective, all we are asked from each family is to come up with $300 to play, which for most of us who play club volleyball, in this sport, is really a bargain,” McDonald said. Club volleyball costs McDonald between $1,000 and $2,500 a season. While she knows the $300 price tag is tough for some families, she said the team has come up with ways for them to raise the money instead. McDonald said she is concerned about some of changes the ACLU lawsuit has brought to Placer since she was a student there. “I do think it’s a brand new day. I was very concerned about what the future would be like, partly because of this ACLU lawsuit” McDonald said. “I think maybe it was well-intended, but it’s going to create even more of a divide between the haves and the have-nots. The more affluent schools are going to be able to pay for their athletes.” That could have detrimental ramifications, like top athletes transferring schools, according to McDonald. Families from Auburn Recreational Soccer were big supporters at the car wash. McDonald said she has been impressed by the way the Auburn community has come together to rally around its athletes and hopes it continues to stay unified. She said fundraising and each family giving what they can, which will be more for some than others, is the way forward. “I just really hope that this is not a competition between sports programs,” McDonald said. “It’s really an opportunity for us to come to together. What I would hope is families that can afford to give more, will give more to help out the families that can’t afford it.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.