According to national economists and politicians, The Great Recession has been over for quite some time, but for schools at the city and township level, it feels like it is just beginning.
School boards across the country are struggling to maintain a high quality of education for their students and teachers due to lack of funds, and high school athletics are taking a hit along with everything else.
One of the worst cases in Pennsylvania is Juniata High School, which was recently stripped of its entire athletic fund. Luckily, most schools don’t have to worry about resorting to such measures.
Several programs across Pennsylvania have instituted a pay-to-play system to combat the money issues. Pay-to-play typically signifies a one-time fee covering the entire school year for one student athlete. Two high schools in the PIAA District 3 that already have such a system in place are Greencastle-Antrim and Palmyra.
As for the six public high schools in Adams County, all have conceded further budget cuts for the 2011-2012 school year but are looking at pay-to-pay as a last resort.
“All schools in the state are looking for ways to try and raise some funds,” Gettysburg Athletic Director Carlos Wampler said. “Personally, I do not support pay-to-play. In some ways, athletes already pay for consumable items like shoes, socks, shin guards, etc. I could probably support it better if it became something that all students paid like an activity fee.”
Fairfield does have what it calls an athletic program fee of $30, which each student-athlete pays in every season that he/she is involved in a varsity sport. However, this fee was put into place several years ago to help offset the cost of administering physical examinations and drug tests, and was not a response to a lack of funds. The fee has steadily increased since it began, but Fairfield AD Crystal Heller said it wouldn’t climb higher than $50.
She said parents have looked at the fee as more of nuisance than anything, and she only recalls one instance in which it was a financial issue for a family.
“They had five kids in the system and they were a low-income family,” Heller said. “We knew it was a struggle so we waived the fee.”
The Times talked with all six athletic directors to find out what cuts had been made between 2010-11 and 2011-12. Here is what those discussions revealed:
We’ll start with the good news.
No cuts are in the foreseeable future at Bermudian, which has maintained its budget over the last three years.
“We came very close, but we were able to make budget,” AD Dave Orwig said, concerning the upcoming school year. “We prepared for this the last two or three years, and as a result, we held status quo.”
The Eagles not only avoided cuts, but may be adding to the athletic program. Bermudian is presently considering boys and girls tennis, which could start next spring. The school is still gauging interest and its tennis courts need resurfacing.
The economic downturn has hit Canner Country the hardest.
Biglerville was forced to cut stipends to 15 assistant coaching positions combined between the high school and junior high school. In addition, Biglerville’s general funds budget was cut by 22 percent, meaning that no sports will receive new uniforms next year.
AD Anthony Graham said that the coaches have taken a proactive stance against the difficult circumstances.
“In a perfect world this is not the approach that would have been taken, but coaches are very optimistic,” he said. “They are coming up with their own plans for fundraisers to provide their teams with some things that the school district decided not to. It’s a tough situation because if the money’s not there, it’s not there. If this were a normal year we wouldn’t be talking about this.”
In another attempt to replenish funds, the Upper Adams school board will vote later this month on a proposal to charge admission to sporting events that are presently free, such as baseball, softball, field hockey and track & field.
Green Knight athletics endured a cut of $16,000 from their budget for the upcoming school year. Like Biglerville, Fairfield athletes won’t be covered for uniform replacement, and the football team is now down an assistant coach.
The varsity sports must also find closer opponents for their non-conference events to cut down on travel expenses.
The Warriors’ budgetary changes for next year involved some shifting around, rather than subtracting.
The Gettysburg seventh-grade football team will move to midget status, while ninth-grade boys and girls will be removed. However, Gettysburg is adding seventh- and eighth-grade soccer for boys and girls.
Pay-to-play may get mentioned quite a bit at Littlestown business and school board meetings over the next year.
Its operating budget, which includes equipment, game help and dues and fees, was slashed by $10,000 after cuts of $20,000 each over the last two years. The Thunderbolts eliminated seven assistant coaching positions and reduced the athletic secretary position to part-time. Present budget projections for Littlestown show that more cuts are on the way in 2012-13.
The situation may look grim, but AD Drake D’Angelo is keeping a positive outlook.
“If we can go without purchasing something and continue to give the athletes the best opportunity to excel, we’re going to do that,” he said.
The Ox athletic program has the most to lose with more sports than other schools in the county, but it’s staying afloat.
AD Ken Shafer said New Oxford cut seven or eight coaching salaries at the junior high level, while all other coaches are on a wage freeze. Admission prices to sporting events are also being raised by a dollar, to $5 and $3 for adults and students, respectively. Finally, the school will no longer cover off-season transportation for teams.
Whether it’s the cutting of assistant coaches, uniforms or travel, the overall consensus is that these obstacles will be overcome.
In fact, it’s well known that hard times tend to bring people closer together. Teams without out much help from their schools work harder to raise the money themselves, and booster programs step up the fundraising as well. Before you know it, the coaches are still around and new uniforms are on the kids’ backs.
“I think my coaching staff has been very supportive,” D’Angelo said. “Nobody wants to tell another coach that we won’t be able to pay them, but those coaches that had their stipend removed, they’re still wanting to stay in a volunteer status because they care for the kids and care about the programs. These are tough times and everybody has stayed together and been team players.”
Note – Only public schools were researched for the purpose of this story.
Adrian Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.