Photo by Christine Troyke
COVINGTON -- Because of deep budget cuts at schools, many athletic programs have been forced to become extremely creative in order to keep up with the demands of running their programs.
For example, Newton's football players have been working at the McDonald's on the corner of Salem Road near Brown's Bridge Road every Wednesday in their fundraising efforts. Besides accepting donations from customers, they also get 10 percent of what the store makes during the hours that they're working.
"They have what they call McTeachers night, and we've dubbed the name 'McRam night,'" Newton football head coach Cortez Allen said. "We go out there between the hours of 5 and 8 on Wednesday evenings and clean the tables, sweep and just greet the customers.
"That's one thing that we've done to help offset the cost of some of the things we lost because of the budget cost. Then our parents have done a great job of coming up with new and innovative ideas for fundraising. We're going to try to do a movie on the lawn, we're looking at doing a basketball tournament and finding all the ways we can."
Sports took a hit last year in Newton County when funds were cut to middle school programs. However, a lot of the high school coaches felt it would have been detrimental to their program. As a result, ticket prices were raised at both the high school and middle school level with $1 from each ticket sold going to fund middle school sports.
While moneymakers like football and basketball have money to compete, they have to share their funds with some of the non-revenue-generating sports.
"Our football budget almost takes care of all football and every non-revenue sport like swimming, cross country, track and tennis. Just because football brings in the most it doesn't mean it should always get priority," Eastside Athletic Director Bruce McColumn said.
While football may get the biggest piece of the pie, it also costs a lot to run a football program. According to McColumn, It costs about $500 to properly dress a player on game day. However, this cost does not include the practice pants. In the past, like when their fathers played at the high school level, schools provided shoes, socks, practice pants and everything else needed. Today, these extra costs are absorbed by the players, usually at a cost of several hundred dollars or more each.
"We try to minimize our player fee. There are other teams in other school systems that charge as much as $600 and I've even heard $1,500 to participate in football," Allen said. "People who went here many, many years ago were able to walk into the locker room and everything they needed was in the lockers. But those days are gone. I wish those days were here and we were in that situation, but we're not."
The other cost passed on to each athlete is a county-mandated, one-time participation fee of $20, which goes to help supplement middle school sports. The sports budget goes for more than just sports. It also helps pay for band uniforms and other extra-curricular activities.
While the cost each football player has to pay is a lot, it's still not as much as what cheerleaders pay. When the county was still giving schools their full allotments, cheerleading was costing as much as $600.
But now that the county is not giving as much as it once was, it's up to the booster clubs and various corporate and individual sponsorships to help out.
"In these times, everybody is short," McColumn said. "That's why it's vital to have a booster club and school sponsors who are willing to give. Sports is almost like a begging game. But if you create a partnership with a company they tend to do more for you. Everybody has their own booster club. We don't tell the booster club how to spend their money, but it's channelled through the school."
McColumn is also coming up with more ways to put fans in the seats with various promotions such as senior night, grandparent night, bring a friend night, and church night, which helped bring fans in three years ago.
With the extra money raised, McColumn is hoping to buy green jackets with the Eastside diamond on them so the basketball team can wear them to away games in order to "add more class to our organization."
While things are bad, Allen does not think that the bottom has been reached.
"I don't think we've reached the bottom, and that's the scary part. We're hoping and praying just like everybody else that this thing turns around," Allen said. "We're just trying to rally the community because the kids need the community behind them."