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Boosters, accustomed to funding school sports, now need help, too

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Boosters, accustomed to funding school sports, now need help, too

FALMOUTH — With school budgets stretched thin, athletics programs are relying more heavily than ever on their teams' boosters clubs to pick up basic expenses like equipment, salaries and officials' fees.

And these clubs depend on help from the community to make up the difference.

In Falmouth, several clubs have found a much-needed benefactor in Adam Shapiro.

The
owner of Bernie's Place and Bernie's Pizza Pub restaurants, in the Falmouth Crossing Shopping Center on Gray Road, said
he has made it part of his "vision plan" to donate money to high school
and community sports teams in the town.

"It's obviously fun to make money, but it's also fun to give it away," he said. "If it's a worthy situation, I want to try to help."

This fall, Shapiro donated all of the food for the Falmouth Youth Soccer Association's Falmouth Fall Classic, supplying hungry players from dozens of teams and their fans with pizzas, pulled pork, sandwiches and salads, according to FYSA board member Marsha Lycan.

"In this economy, it's absolutely vital to the continuation of the sports teams (to get help from businesses)," Lycan said.

This year's tournament was scaled back to about 100 teams, Lycan said, but with Shapiro's donation, the club was able to realize as much money as in the previous year. 

A 40-year resident of Falmouth and a graduate of Falmouth High School, Shapiro said he wants to give back to the community because it's been a good place to grow up and because it has continued to support him by frequenting his restaurants. The teamwork and sportsmanship that are learned in good sports programs "are everything" – invaluable traits in the business world and in life, he said.

But now, school and community athletic programs often taken for granted as an unshakable component of high school life are facing potential cuts that will no doubt place an even greater responsibility on the boosters.

Falmouth Athletic Director Todd Livingston said his program is already "heavily reliant" on the boosters organizations.

"Our (teams) wouldn't exist without them," he said.

Last year, the combined boosters clubs' fundraising in Falmouth topped $160,000, Livingston said.

Though some Falmouth sports are fully funded, others, like girls volleyball, receive no funding and must charge team members to play, he said. For volleyball, that fee is $200 per season; for football, players pay $350.

The Falmouth football team is one of the sports responsible to pay its officials' fees of about $2,500, as well as its equipment costs. But even teams that are considered to be fully funded rely heavily on money raised by the boosters. For instance, in baseball, one full set of catcher's gear costs about $500 – the entire year's budget for baseball team equipment, Livingston said.

Now, state aid curtailments and a budget freeze have forced the department to look at additional ways to save money and continue to finance the programs. With participation fee requirements looming, Livingston said he believes there should be level funding for all sports programs.

At a Falmouth School Board meeting last week, the idea of corporate sponsorship was introduced as the district considers options to afford new bleachers that are not included in plans for a new stadium, Livingston said. A committee he formed to explore possible funding sources has decided to try to find a corporate sponsor to offset the expense. It is also considering about a half-dozen other funding opportunities that include advertising signage, he said.

"Crucial" is the word Rich Drummond, Portland High School co-curricular activities director, used to describe the value of the school's boosters clubs.

"In these tough economic times, I think the boosters clubs are buying things that should really fall on the school," he said.

At Portland High School, that includes buying things like uniforms and equipment, he said. While the school doesn't charge activity fees to play sports, Drummond said there are expenses that team members and their families must pick up – trips for ice hockey, meal money and required dress for the games.

As the School Department continues to tighten its belt, Drummond said the boosters will be asked for even more help along the way. Though he said he can't identify specifics at this point, he said the Portland and schools across the state "could be facing some tough decisions in regards to freshmen sports."

"At this point, to label what's going to go or stay is premature," he said. "When it's distributed it has to be equitable."

In addition to the raffles and various other fundraisers, boosters at Portland High School put on a Valentine's dance and join with Deering High School boosters to throw an annual Thanksgiving Day dance.

Businesses in the community also get involved, Drummond said. But he added that it's tough for businesses right now, and sometimes they must pick and choose what they can support financially. And he cautioned that boosters club members can become burned out by their work.

"What we have to keep in mind is boosters are very important and vital to every school's success, but the bottom line is these people are volunteers; their personal time is important as well," he said.

In Bath, Morse High School Athletic Director Scott Walker said an all-sports booster club is "absolutely critical" to the success of the school's sports teams.

"We would not be able to function for supplies or any needs without their help," Walker said.

Instead of a boosters organization for each team, at Morse the single club raises money for all sports. While Morse is hoping to continue to allow all team members to play without paying a participation fee, Walker said the boosters will most likely be asked to give more assistance than in the past.

A popular golf tournament, auctions and concessions are just some of the ways the boosters at Morse raise money for the teams. In addition, each team raises funds individually, he said. Local businesses also help out.

"I think, frankly, if you look at smaller towns, they always rely heavily in business people and, make no mistake, it's a hardship for some of them as well," he said. "We certainly rely on some of them and we're thankful that they do (get involved)."

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.