Originally created 09/10/04

Booster clubs come to aid of cash-strapped schools



AIKEN - Although a half-century of football at Aiken High School's Hagood Stadium is a matter of celebration and nostalgia, the torn, rusty fence that circled the gridiron wasn't an antique to brag about.

The Aiken All Sports Booster Club helped foot the bill for the new green fence around the field - one of many items that cash-strapped schools and school districts around South Carolina are asking athletic booster clubs to help pay for because of three years of state budget cuts.

"If it wasn't for the booster club, we couldn't have half of the sports that we have," said Mark Crawford, athletic director at Aiken High School. "They are our major source of funding."

School districts are receiving fewer dollars from the state and are being forced to make tough decisions when it comes to high school marching bands and sports programs.

In Edgefield County, the Strom Thurmond High School Rebel football team travels up to 2 hours to away games on a 15-year-old bus that is past its prime, said Strom Thurmond High Booster Club President Thomas Holmes.

"It's not that it's unsafe, but it has had some minor problems, and an older bus doesn't have all of the safety features that a newer bus would have," Mr. Holmes said.

Mr. Holmes said the booster club, which helped buy new uniforms for cheerleaders and band members and helped pay umpires for softball and baseball games this year, has taken on a more important role in recent years because of budget cuts.

"We've tried to raise more money, and I know it helps because schools just don't have as much money as they used to," Mr. Holmes said. "We've been fortunate to be able to add a girls' golf team while other schools in other counties have had to cut back on sports."

At Wagener-Salley High School, the athletic booster club has picked up the slack in funding by paying for stadium lights and a lawn mower to trim the school's four ball fields.

"We are really quite dependent on them. We haven't had the matching funds from the county, so we're short a good bit of money," said Steve DeRiggs, athletic director for Wagener-Salley High. "We just don't have that much. But we're trying to get it done."

Although the Aiken County school district has been able to operate without dipping into the red, it had to cut a summer performing arts program and it can no longer offer up to $500 for each sport at area high schools.

"Our booster club has had to pick up the difference and basically pay for all of it," said Walker Crosby, the president of the Aiken All Sports Booster Club.

"Without the booster club, the school would only have the money from gate fees, and that's not very much."

The Aiken All Sports Booster Club now raises about $60,000 a year - about 20 percent more than three years ago to help make up for the money the district can no longer afford to shell out.

The club raises the most money during football season through the sales of program ads, stadium signs and concessions.

"We try to start earlier in the year and get more people involved," Mr. Crosby said. "It takes a lot of volunteers."

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com.