High school sports face funding challenge

Budget crunch could put some athletics on chopping block

For years the biggest problem facing high school coaches in Pleasanton has been determining who will be the key players and how to beat opposing teams.

But now the problem facing not just the coaches, but the entire prep sports community is much greater. Instead of worrying about an upcoming game, all concerned have to face the fact high school sports could be on the chopping block if funding for the programs is not met.

"This is not a scare tactic," said Foothill vice-principal Lori Vella, who oversees athletics at Foothill. "The bottom line is if there isn't money to pay for the expenses of sports, we won't be able to offer sports."

Losing prep sports would have a major influence on the high school community in Pleasanton. With 40% of the students in town participating in sports, there would be a huge void to fill.

In addition, the community embraces the local teams. Over the years, more than 10,000 students and fans have shown up for to watch the football squads of cross-town rivals Amador Valley High play against Foothill, alone. Anytime the two schools meet on the athletic field there is always a crowd be it football, baseball, softball, lacrosse or any of the sports.

Making matters worse is that club sports have become the way colleges look at athletes, de-emphasizing high school sports. Thirty years ago colleges used high school sports as the way to recruit athletes, but now it's all through the clubs. With the exception of football, high school athletics have almost become a ghost to college recruiters. Even football has seen the onset of summer skills camps as a major way to get noticed.

With the expense of club sports, people are getting to the point it is hard to pay for high school sports when they are going to be shelling out $5,000 or more for a summer of club sports.

Even though the percentage of kids who go on to play college athletics is small, parents are always trying to give their son or daughter the maximum chance to succeed at the next level. Soccer has been the biggest issue locally as both Amador Valley and Foothill -- former consistent power-houses -- have lost top-notch players to year-round club sports and as a result, have tumbled down to the lower levels of the EBAL.

But what club sports cannot accomplish is creating the memories within your community through athletic competition.

"It creates a positive connection with kids for their school," said Kevin Johnson, the Senior Director of Pupil Services for the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD).

Johnson has a unique perspective on high school athletics in Pleasanton as he is a former athlete at Amador Valley, has been an administrator at both Amador and Foothill and saw his children compete athletically in town.

"It is important to build a sense of community with the school -- a partnership through athletics," Johnson said. "It is something the kids will carry with them. They build great memories."

How we got to this point has come as a result of the diminishing economy. In the past, PUSD paid for a number of aspects relating to prep sports such as stipends for the athletic director and coaches, as well as transportation costs. New equipment and other things, such as refurbishing helmets, were handled by the district.

Gradually those costs have fallen to the individual schools. With each school's discretionary funds dwindling as well, it has been sports suffering along with all other aspects of education. In addition as the "voluntary donations" have risen for sports, the economy has hit many families hard, thus limiting how much people can pay for their kids to play.

Based on the "free-school guarantee" for public schools in California, no student shall be denied an educational activity (curricular or co-curricular) based on his/her inability to pay a fee. As a result, the schools often offer "scholarships" for players who can't afford the fees.

While this does help everyone participate, it also creates a deficit when schools are forced to scrape to find the money to cover the lack of funds. In some cases a sport can exceed $50,000 in debt that in turn affects every other sport for the rest of the season. With schools facing a price tag of around $500,000 a year each to finance athletics, these additional costs add to the financial problem.

Fundraising is the obvious way for schools to battle through the budget crisis. Amador has been a leader in raising funds, with the highlight being the annual Purple and Gold Gala. In the last five years, the Gala has grossed $900,000.

"We have been very aggressive in fund-raising," explained Sally Parsons, the president of the Amador Booster Club. "As a result we have no shortfalls."

Parsons pointed out the way Amador approaches raising funds may be different than a lot of schools and as a result is more effective.

"A lot of schools look at fund raising and say, 'we will make what we make'," said Parsons. "But we decide to do only things that will make us a lot of money."

Amador's boosters hold four main fundraising events each year: a golf tournament in the fall; ad sales in three separate seasonal sports programs; the Purple and Gold Gala and finally, E-Script.

During the Purple and Gold Gala, the boosters have a "fund-a-need" part of the program that goes directly to the scholarship fund for players who can't afford to pay the athletic fees. The Gala has become a huge event in large part due to the teamwork that comes from everyone involved in athletics at Amador.

"The parents, coaches and players all work together," said Parsons. "We've spearheaded the philosophy that they will give back to their sport."

It has worked wonderfully at Amador, allowing the Dons to have the money to fund their sports if there are any shortages.

But fundraising has not been as successful at Foothill and, as a result, Foothill must deal with the lack of funding for athletics.

The kicker or stinger here is given how the PUSD looks to keep the schools equal. Should a sport considered part of the extra-curricular program be dropped at Foothill, Amador could lose the sports, too.

"The two schools have done things differently," said Parsons. "But Foothill is getting there. We have had some meetings with them and they are getting it together."

The major problem facing the Foothill Athletic Boosters (FAB) is a general lack of participation by the majority of athletic parents. For five years, Foothill has been without a major fundraiser, but times are changing. Last month the school held a "Denim and Diamonds" event as a dry run for bringing back the Falcon Royale fundraiser in the fall.

"I have committed to run a gala for nine years," said Brenda McFarlane, the vice-president of FAB. "But the biggest drawback is there are not a lot of people willing to help."

In the recent on-line auction that accompanied the Denim and Diamonds, teams were given a chance to raise funds for their individual group, but only about half of the teams at Foothill made an effort.

That will make a big difference as FAB gears up to purchase big ticket items for the school's athletic facilities, which include track and field landing pads and netting for soccer and lacrosse beyond the end lines.

"Teams will have to be self-sustaining," said McFarlane. "Teams will earn back based on their participation. Those who are more active will reap the benefits."

Foothill handles its fundraising differently than Amador in that FAB works with the Academic and Athletics Boosters Club (AABC), splitting the money between the athletics and the educational side of the school.

"We very much want to prove we are one school -- athletics and academics," said McFarlane. "There is a big carry over between the parents of both organizations."

As far as the PUSD is concerned, there is a commitment to the continuation of prep sports, as least at league level.

"Athletics is part of the extra-curricular program for the schools," explained Johnson. "The District has made a commitment to be in a league. The athletic program for the district is to be a member of the East Bay Athletic League. However the district is not prepared at this time to support (pre-season and post-season) at the expense of academics."

While the state of high school athletics in Pleasanton may be as dire as ever, Johnson is very optimistic going forward.

"The role of the (PUSD) is to provide guidance and support -- to work with the school to understand you can't cancel a sport because of (a lack of) donations," said Johnson. "I think everything will work out with the donations. No one is going to lose a sport. Maybe it will involve just a league schedule, not a full schedule."

For more information regarding either the Amador or Foothill Boosters, go to the following sites: Amador -- or Foothill at


Like this comment
Posted by xyz
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Is it true that football programs more than pay for themselves? Does anyone know. I hear that a lot, but I have no idea if it is true.

Like this comment
Posted by jill
a resident of Birdland
on May 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Nobody has ever said that Pleasanton has a great school district because of the sports teams. So no, the programs do not pay for themselves. However, I think it is a good thing and probably keeps some kids in school that would not have completed their schooling, plus it gives the kids something to do after school, instead of causing trouble. Amador Valley athletic boosters raise a ton of money. I am not sure why Foothill cannot do the same. Also, if there is not a lot of support in the boosters at the school, that kind of says something about the parents of kids in the sports. I think Foothill needs to learn more on what Amador does and "step up to the plate". I don't want to see Amador sports having to be canceled because Foothill cannot raise as much money.

Like this comment
Posted by no
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

to xzy... someone told me that football program is the one that has the largest negative balance at FHS. I don't know if that is true or not.

Jill...why are pitting one school against the other?

Like this comment
Posted by jill
a resident of Birdland
on May 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm

The contrary. The district is. They are saying that if both schools do not raise equal fund that they will cancel the programs at both schools as they want equal programs at each school. I don't want to loose what is at Amador but the district is saying that unless Foothill does an equal amount of fundraising, they will cut equal amount of programs at both school.

Like this comment
Posted by Lucia Holman, President Foothill Athletic Boosters
a resident of Foothill High School
on May 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I'd like to thank everyone for their comments. This has been a year of transition in how we go about supporting the athletics program at Foothill. AVHS Booster President Sally Parsons was kind enough to meet with us at the beginning of the school year to share her successful methods and ideas. I continue to benefit from her guidance and thank her for her graciousness in willing to be one community of "Booster Parents". As Ken Mano indicated in his note we have also transitioned to having teams participate at a greater level in fundraising opportunities to build up their team accounts. It has been a gradual process but one that continues to grow. We continue to add fundraising opportunities to allow teams the ability to fundraise through a school/community effort as well as their own individual efforts. We are working with coaches, athletes and their parents to continue their efforts to make their programs successful. Regarding the "voluntary donation" language that continues to be discussed, this is a directive from the legal counsel at the district level. All schools in Pleasanton are to use this language when discussing their programs with parents. This was not a choice made by Foothill alone. Everyone is to use this language. Having said that, we all need to be aware that our property taxes do not go directly to PUSD. They go directly to the State of California who then disburses the money throughout the state. Funding for athletics has dwindled and does not reach our district. Therefore our district has no money to allot to any of the schools. So we must turn to the parents and ask for your assistance. Many parents have expressed that we put our child in a public school and shouldn't have to "pay to play". That concept while true is no longer realistic. Our children gain a great deal from participating in sports. Is every experience wonderful and enlightening?? No. But that's reality and I would rather our kids learn how to deal with that now than as adults incapable of handling rejection or the tough demands of a job. So I ask each of you with a child who plays a sport or is thinking of playing a sport at any level, to support your child's team as much as you can financially. If you can't make the full amount that's suggested then pay what you can. Payment plans can be arranged as well. If you can't pay, ask your coaches how you can help. There are many volunteer opportunities available. If you have fundraising ideas share them and better yet, offer to run them. Offer to drive, hold a dinner for the athletes and their families, take tickets at a game,etc. I look forward to working with many more of you as we continue to evolve our support of our Pleasanton Schools! Go Falcons and Dons! I truly believe you're the best of the best!

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Kirk
a resident of Foothill High School
on May 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I would like to say, "ditto" to everything Lucia said! I would also like to encourage everyone to look on the bright side - Foothill is "stepping up to the plate". A lot of parents donated time, talent and funds to our Denim & Diamond event and many more are helping with our upcoming Falcon Royale in November. Our booster groups have decided to join together to host these events to show unity within the Foothill community. We hope the community at large will support that spirit. Let's stop the negative commentary and pitch in!
Barbara Kirk
Foothill Academics & Activities Booster

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