With supplemental funds so essential to helping preps sports programs perform at a highly competitive level, high school athletics departments and their booster clubs are forced to come up with their own style of “Moneyball.”
In the Douglas County School District and at Littleton Public Schools, a student athlete’s cost for participating in sports ranges between $135-$150. However, the use of those collected fees differ from school to school.
Heritage athletic director Steve Shelton said program budgets are significantly higher than the athletic fees. With basketball as an example, there could be 30 girls in the Eagles girls hoops program between all three levels — varsity, junior varsity and freshman. The $135 athletic fee nets the program $4,050. The budget coaches get to spend is twice that, Shelton said.
“That money goes to pay for transportation, officials and small-dollar equipment needs if there is money left over. That is it,” he said. “In most cases uniforms and gear is an extra expense the booster clubs take on because there is not enough in the budget. Any outside facility rental is covered by the families and the booster clubs.”
Athletic fees are a drop in the bucket when considering the cost of running the program. The fees would barely cover one coach’s stipend, and there are usually four coaches in the program.
Things are similar in Douglas County schools, with money from fundraisers usually going toward in-season equipment and attire. On occasion some may go to out-of-season gear.
As for athletic fees, Highlands Ranch athletic director Bruce Wright said there used to be a cap for families paying the $150 per sport, but budgets cuts over the last few years have taken that out. Those fees would generally not be used for off-site facilities or offseason training, as any particular sport would have other fees collected per participant to pay for those items, he said.
“The one true thing is that the booster money goes for things that support the athletes, and the school budget tries to cover the overhead,” Shelton said.
Generating consistent supplemental funds from a community can be just as competitive as the teams they go toward. Creativity tends to be the key.
“We have very creative parent groups (at Heritage) that find creative ways to raise money,” Shelton said. “So many people are sick and tired of cookie dough and butter braids that they would just rather write a check. We push them to get creative.”
Some of the ideas booster clubs in the area have come up with include car washes at local businesses, fresh fruit sales and selling ads in the athletic programs. Heritage has been known to raffle off choice parking spaces and run tournaments of dodgeball, volleyball and basketball, as well as organize “Skate with the Eagles” events.
“Anything outside the box that involves activity and social interaction have proven to be the most effective with kids,” Shelton said.
At Highlands Ranch High School, boosters come up with their own creative ideas. It’s been a part of Falcons culture since the school came into existence. Wright said their programs have tried publishing a calendar so efforts between sports programs aren’t duplicated throughout the year and provides a continuous funding source.
“While there are a lot of food sales and nights at local restaurants, some of the clubs have also been selling Generic Ranch Gear that could be worn to any event,” Wright said. “Some have sold bleacher seats with the Ranch Logo. Football and basketball do ‘Split the Pot’ with raffle tickets at home games.”
Most high schools have a schoolwide volunteer group to help fundraising efforts. At Castle View, Laura Alfano, president of the schoolwide Sabercats Booster Club, took advantage of a PTO mailer she received from the Harlem Wizards years ago. The Wizards are a nonprofit basketball team of tricks and comedy which plays a team of school staff. Ticket sales are used as fundraising.
“At the time, I was working at Soaring Hawk Elementary and volunteering for the booster club,” Alfano said. “I thought it was an event that would interest the entire community, not just the high school.”
Although fundraisers like team nights at local restaurants are built into the efforts of some programs, others try to focus on “effective fundraising.” Legend High School in Parker, for example, will organize a couple of larger fundraisers and do them within the respective program to bring in the needed amount.
“I think groups need to be creative,” Titans athletic director Jason Jacob said. “Coaches and parents do a great job coming up with different ideas so the same fundraisers are not being done during each season. We try not to saturate the community with too much door-to-door sales.”
In addition, Jacob has worked with a parent to set up a sponsorship program at www.sponsorlhs.org, which brings in money annually to help support all athletics. Now that Legend is getting older, its equipment and facilities are starting to see some wear and tear and in need of maintenance. The Titans have added a television component as an extra feature at www.chsaa.tv/legend where they offer more exposure to sponsors.
Highlands Ranch has felt the pocket strain with the growth of its community. Being the oldest high school in its community within the Douglas County School District, Falcons athletics were the first in the well as far as fundraising.
Along comes ThunderRidge, Mountain Vista and Rock Canyon, and the donation dollars started to thin out for all the athletic departments.
“It gets harder to fundraise, but not even so much as having other athletic departments in existence,” Wright said. “There's only so many times people can go to the well in the entire community before funds begin to dry up.”
For fledgling schools like Castle View and Legend, asking for donations may be trickier when they are the new kid on the block. However, Jacob, formerly a longtime basketball coach at Chaparral, said Legend’s challenges haven’t been any different than other schools, despite its youth.
“I don't think it is harder,” the Titans AD said. “Fundraising is fundraising. It is all about setting up effective fundraisers. The community has been very supportive of all the fundraising that our sports have had to do to start their programs.”
Titans athletics, however, did find themselves the victim of circumstance early in their history. Legend received a start-up athletics budget when the school opened, which was allocated to all of its sports. After that opening year, Douglas County School District went through budget cuts, and athletics/activities had an annual $47,000 on the chopping block.
Until then, all other Douglas County schools which had been around had benefited from the vending money through the district’s contract with the Coca-Cola Company and building rentals. When the budget cuts happened, that money was taken from the schools and allocated to the district.
“We lost out on that opportunity due to being a new school,” Jacob said. “There is a participation fee of $150 for all athletes to participate per sport. After that fee, coaches have set up fundraisers with supportive parents and athletes to raise money for the programs.”
When money is involved, whether its allocated or donated, a system of accountability must be in place. But who do these booster clubs and parent-driven organizations answer too if they haven’t established their own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status?
Again, the system depends on the district, the school and possibly the coach. Most of these organizations answer to a program’s head coach or athletic director.
In the instance of Castle View football, Alfano said the booster club answers to athletic director Derek Cordes. The club is limited by regulations from the Douglas County Educational Foundation. Alfano said schools which have PTAs pay an annual membership to the National PTA, and then all their events are insured through the national organization.
“We are a chapter of the DCEF, so we are insured through them, protected financially in the sense that they are our accountant and treasurer,” the Sabercats booster president said. “We give them paperwork. They issue checks.”
Jacob said all accounts at Legend also are run through the DCEF, so all money is accounted for. This way there is accountability for all money being spent to support a respective program, and administration can see what it takes to run a program on a yearly basis for each sport.
Wright said both the Colorado High School Activities Association and the school district have specific guidelines for booster clubs. The CHSAA recognizes booster clubs “may be formed for the purpose of providing additional financial assistance to specific teams or general athletic/activity programs.” In addition, the association states any benefits provided are subject to applicable state and federal regulations and all donations must be approved by school administration.
One federal regulation brings up yet another challenge for high school athletic departments: Title IX.
“When you have different programs with different needs, it can be a challenge to make sure our women's programs are given the same resources as the men's,” Heritage AD Shelton said. “It is a difficult conversation with people who want to raise or give money to things (to understand) that they must also use some of their money on whatever the opposite sex is.”
Because Littleton Public Schools leaves booster clubs to be run by parents, Shelton said he has little involvement with them outside of making sure the Eagles are abiding by Title IX expectations.
At Highlands Ranch, Wright makes use of an informative MS PowerPoint presentation, created by the district, which the school administration shares with its booster clubs at the beginning of the academic year. It outlines what both the CHSAA and the district expects in lieu of fundraising and booster club finances.
“We have a great working relationship with our booster clubs, and they have all been very supportive of their particular teams and what the school is trying to do overall for athletics and activities,” Wright said.