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Booster clubs vie for dollars

September 26, 2009
North Carolina

By Stephanie Creech
Wilson Times

WILSON - Bleachers full of fans cheering on their favorite high school football teams on Friday nights usually mean a financial gain for athletic departments and booster clubs.

Football is the money-maker.

People pay gate admission fees. Hungry fans buy food from concession stands.

But gate receipts are down this year, according to Jimmy Tillman, system athletic director for Wilson County Schools, due to the economy and the weather.

The annual game between rivals Beddingfield and Hunt drew about 1,800 people to Beddingfield, according to Jody O'Neal, Beddingfield's athletic director. But Tillman said the game usually draws a crowd of 2,500 to 3,000 people.

"We have to rely on gate receipts as our main source of income for athletics," Tillman said. "People are having to make decisions. When they are out of work, one thing that goes is entertainment. They don't go to movies or sporting events, and we're seeing some of that most definitely."

Tillman said Hunt and Fike will play each other a second time this football season because the additional gate receipts are needed. The high schools are also holding senior night, parent night and other nights to recognize people to draw more people to the games. Athletic directors use money made off gate receipts to pay for officials, security, ticket takers, clock keepers and anyone else needed to make games happen.

Attendance might be down but athletic director and booster club members, both athletic and band, say people are still giving.

"People are still willing to give," O'Neal said. "People are still showing their support for Beddingfield and Beddingfield athletics. Having good gate receipts at football games help you get through other seasons that don't pay for themselves and the department has to spend money."

Athletic boosters at each high school sell advertising space, for example, on walls or the back of scoreboards. Mary Squires, vice president of Fike's athletic booster club, said board sales are about what they have been in prior years, and season ticket pass sales are up.

"I think parents realize with the cuts in the school budget that they have to step up a little bit this year," Squires said. "Even sales for baseball signs have been good."

This fiscal year, each high school received $12,000 for athletics and $5,000 for security at athletic events. The school district's budget also funds athletic travel, athletic utilities and coaching supplements, none of which are direct allocations to the high schools. The amount of money the schools received for athletics and security is the same as last fiscal year, according to information provided by the district.

O'Neal said he turns to the athletic booster club for help with equipment or any extras the department's budget won't cover. Sometimes a purchase can be as simple as grass seed for a playing field.

"As an athletic department, sometimes we struggle to make it," O'Neal said. "They are willing to pick us up."

As of early September, Beddingfield's athletic booster club had $5,378 in its account. Concession receipts from the first football game of the season totaled $1,131.21. The club wants to upgrade the concession stand used during football season. Estimated cost for that project is $8,000.

Kim Brown, Fike's athletic director, said his coaches are good at using the resources they have and are smart in what they ask for from the booster club. Brown said coaches generate a list of items they need for the next school year each spring. The list is itemized. Brown said they want the students in high-quality uniforms not just a T-shirt and a pair of shorts but a "uniform they can be proud to put on their backs."

Tillman said each high school has 30 to 31 sports, so it can become expensive.

Because of the economy, some booster clubs are looking at new ways to raise money and at ways to cut costs. Other clubs are sticking to traditional fundraisers. Squires said at Fike they are sticking to fundraisers that have traditionally worked. For example, a reverse raffle is being planned for January.

"I think people are looking at different ways to raise money," Squires said. "You get to a point where fundraisers run their course, and you do have to come up with some different ideas."

Squires said the Parent Teacher Organization at Toisnot Middle this year sold mums to raise money, for example. Middle schools in this district do not have booster clubs.

Sy'Donna Braswell, president of Hunt's band booster club, and her team of parent volunteers are exploring fundraisers they think people will support. Hunt's first fundraiser this year wasn't successful, Braswell said. People wouldn't buy the reverse scratch cards. With a reverse scratch card, the dollar amount that appears when the card is scratched is how much the person donates.

The club chose not to hold its annual fruit sale last year because people wanted a break, Braswell said. She's hoping the fruit sale this year will do well. Hunt band supporters will also be selling Autobell car wash gift certificates. The company and band will each receive part of the proceeds.

"Last school year, we had to come up with fundraisers that were outside of the norm and do off-the-wall things to try to raise money," Braswell said.

The club held a spaghetti plate sale, a yard sale and several book fairs. This year's venture outside their normal fundraising activities is selling baked goods at home football games.

The club raised $81 off baked goods during the last home game, Braswell said. Money raised is 100 percent profit because parents donate the items.

"We sold all of the items at $1 each," Braswell said. "No one batted an eye. No one questioned a dollar. We let them know this is for the Hunt band. People didn't blink an eye when I asked for $1 for a cupcake. I was expecting at least one person to say something."

Hunt's band boosters have put cost-cutting measures in place this year. They searched for a cheaper dry cleaning source for uniforms. Color guard members no longer pay for their own uniforms. Instead, the club is looking for used color guard uniforms from schools elsewhere in the state.

The band boosters have also cut the annual band participation fee from $250 to $150 per student because families can't afford to pay it. Braswell said even with the $150 fee they have children having a hard time paying the fee. Students are supposed to pay the fee before the start of summer band camp so the club can cover the cost of running the camp. Braswell said they still have students who haven't paid the fee.

"We don't tell them you can't participate," Braswell said. "We don't do that."

Cutting fees means club members have to raise more money to make up the difference. Money the club raises pays for competition entry fees and travel expenses and some equipment purchases among other things. Braswell said the club tries to raise $3,000 to $4,000 per year.

Tillman said the schools and clubs try to spread the funding requests made of area businesses.

"Our business people are good to us," Tillman said. "It does saturate them right much. We have to be very careful about that."

Tillman said the athletic boosters, for example, no longer sell football programs. Instead, they try to sell businesses the booster board advertisements, not both.

"We're doing everything we can to be creative," Tillman said.

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