Because of slow ticket sales at games, rising expenses and a need to rein in spending by coaches, the Richmond County school system’s athletic department will implement changes next year, some of which will affect patrons’ wallets.
Ticket prices for games will increase by $1, making them even with the $7 admission charged by surrounding counties. Season ticket passes will double in cost to $100.
The most systematic change will come in how the district allows coaches to spend money. Going back to a method used several years ago, coaches will no longer be given budgets at the beginning of the year to spend how they see fit.
Athletic Director George Bailey will assess the needs of schools at the beginning of the year, and most orders for equipment, jerseys and other supplies will be made through the athletic department at the central office.
Bailey said the change was needed because coaches were purchasing items they did not need and ripping through funds in a time when money is tight.
“If you give anyone a budget, they’re going to try and spend all of the money whether they need the things or not,” Bailey said. “I’ve gone in locker rooms and seen stockpiles of tape just because they had the money left over at the end of the year and felt like they had to spend it.”
Previously, each school was given a set amount for the year depending on the sport: $3,000 for football, $1,500 for basketball, $800 for soccer, $1,500 for baseball and $1,200 for softball, according to Chris Hughes, the football coach and athletic director at the Academy of Richmond County.
While the district covers major expenses such as helmet conditioning, field maintenance and pay for game officials through its $470,000 budget, coaches were left with few funds for individual school expenses, Hughes said. Richmond Academy had car washes, booster club support and other fundraisers to raise $2,500 last year for its football budget.
Hughes said the change in the budget process will be an adjustment, but he understands everyone has to make sacrifices.
“We’re spending every dime because it’s tough,” he said. “But people are losing jobs, teachers are getting furloughed all these days. I’m sure we could all, as athletic departments, all cut back so we can start getting furlough days back for teachers. We just have to make the best of it in a bad situation.”
BAILEY SAID TIMES were hard this year, with a drastic decrease in revenue from ticket sales at games. Though he could not provide an overall revenue figure, he said last year’s T.W. Josey vs. Lucy C. Laney football game – the highest attended game every year – brought in $9,000 in ticket sales, down from the $20,000 it traditionally averages.
The department also had an unexpected $40,000 expense when it had to replace 266 outdated helmets to comply with new state regulations.
At the Board of Education’s budget meeting last month, Bailey said his biggest struggle was overspending by schools, which now will be better regulated by handling all the funds at the central office.
Even before this change, when coaches made requests for items outside their budget through the central office, there were challenges. If coaches were ordering new jerseys when the old uniforms were still usable or requesting equipment they did not need, Bailey wasn’t always able to stop it.
“If I on some occasions denied certain things – and I’m going to say this, I have some coaches in this county who have friends all the way up to board members,” Bailey said. “And as soon as I deny something, they get on the phone and they call who they know and all of a sudden there are changes that I have to make.”
THE BOARD unanimously approved the changes presented by Bailey. Board President Venus Cain said that in a budget year with nine furlough days and more than a hundred position cuts, savings need to be made in any area possible.
“People will buy stuff that they just don’t need because they’ve got the money to do it, bottom line,” she said. “Money’s tight. Bottom line is if we have to reel everybody in until we get through this, everybody is going to be reeled in and we have to work together in order to make it happen.”
Bailey is also enacting a change in the pay structure for community coaches at all schools. Schools used to pay community coaches based on the supplements available at the school, which ranged from $900 to $3,000 a year. Starting next year, all community coaches will be paid $375 at the high school level and $150 in middle school sports.
“They come out and they work hard and we couldn’t do it without them, but we’re at a point now where we have to save money,” Bailey said.
HEPHZIBAH HIGH School football coach John Bowen said the changes, especially in the budget process, will be “a headache,” because fundraising used to supplement the budgets is not always dependable.
He said because most teams have more athletes in the program than those who actually play, limiting rosters could help during the budget crisis, with fewer kids to dress, protect and transport.
He said the economic problems are going to have to make people rethink the role of high school athletics and move away from the
glitz and glory of the game and more toward the real meaning.
“The role of athletics is to give kids a chance to participate in an athletic event for their physical development but also character development,” Bowen said. “I think somewhere we got this thinking that every school should be the next Valdosta, so it’s an unrealistic expectation with kids, parents and everything else. You’ve got to have the money come in, but I’m not going to sit here and cry about a budget.
“We have footballs, we have a nice facility, we have nice uniforms. We’re going to just worry about being the best football team we can be.”