In recent days, some have expressed concern over the ticket prices for football games at Memorial Stadium. Of particular interest is the annual rivalry game between Griffin High School and Spalding High School two weeks ago, because the charge of admission was increased to $10 for that one game.
Let me first explain my perspective. I am a member of the Board of Education and have been heavily involved with the Spalding Jaguar Touchdown Club for the last few years. My son is on the team. The experience as a school board member and father has made me a strong advocate for the athletic programs at both of our regular high schools. I proudly support these programs with my time and money.
Some basic facts about the funding of the athletic programs are critical. One of the biggest misconceptions is that tax dollars go to fund football instead of academic programs, which have been cut back due to state budget cuts. This is emphatically not true. State law does not permit tax dollars to be used for athletic programs, with the exception of transportation and coaching supplements, which are nominal. Instead, athletic programs are funded almost entirely from two sources: gate receipts and private fund-raising by the booster clubs.
With respect to gate receipts, there is a fallacy that student athletes are exploited to subsidize the school system. The recent Griffin vs. Spalding game illustrates the economics. According to official figures, the game produced gross receipts of $33,754. The total cost of overhead for the game, including security, game officials, cleanup, gate workers, etc., was $2,905. The remaining net revenue of $30,849 was divided between the two schools, with each athletic program receiving $15,425.50.
This sounds like a lot of money before accounting for the cost of the football programs. The expenses for a game are roughly the same even when attendance is low. What this means in real terms is that for the run-of-the-mill contests, there is little, if any, extra money after the game is paid for. The Griffin-Spalding game is also the only game where the home team splits the net receipts, because they are both truly home teams. The bottom line, therefore, is that this figure of $15,425.50 must cover the cost of operating the program.
Equipment alone consumes this money. Most people would be surprised to learn that a football jersey costs $100. Each player must have two jerseys — one for home games and one for away games. Each team has 80 to 100 players. That means just to dress out each player in a jersey costs each team $16,000 to $20,000. The jerseys have to be replaced every couple of years due to the abuse they take.
Equipment purchases are made a year in advance. Last December, Spalding High School ordered equipment for this year’s team. The equipment cost $15,515.25, which was paid last year and was more than the gate receipts for this year’s game. This is not fancy, optional equipment like a JumboTron screen, but necessities like helmets, shoulder pads, kneepads and, of course, jerseys.
While I am a lawyer — not a mathematician — it is clear that the annual rivalry game does not carry the football program, let alone the other athletic programs. In the days of yore, high school football had enough support to fund the other athletic programs. At one time, high school football was almost a religion in the South. For a number of reasons, this is no longer the case, and it is a struggle for the football fan base to carry the load of a team, let alone fund other sports.
This brings me to my next point. The athletes and parents raise the rest of the money through the booster clubs. For the Spalding Jaguars, the booster club approved a budget of $40,000 this year to pay for more equipment, camps, food for the players, additional transportation and anything else that is necessary to have a quality program. How did we do it? By doing back-breaking work at the World Congress Center; selling raffle tickets, pancake tickets and football programs; cooking hamburgers; begging family members; and knocking on doors of sponsors, who are so greatly appreciated. The Griffin Bear Touchdown Club, which I also sponsor, enjoys its own rich traditions.
Football may be one of the best things in life, but it is not free. The unfortunate truth is that many of the kids who benefit from the football and other athletic programs cannot afford the substantial cost involved. They need the support of the boosters and the fans. Like so many other things, athletic programs have a lot more expenses than meets the eye. The cost of admission may sound high until you understand the economics of a program. It should also be pointed out that most systems charge an increased price for the rivalry games because they are such a huge draw. In one county, they don’t even allow the games to be broadcast on the radio to force people to come to the games.
The reason we support these programs — beyond love of our own children — is that the athletic programs play an incredibly important role in the lives of young people. High school (and middle school) sports are a unique tool to provide structure and teach values like perseverance, sportsmanship, teamwork and character. If a young woman or young man can compete in an athletic contest, he or she will obtain the confidence to succeed in so many of the contests of life. The roles of coaches — who really are teachers working after-hours, numerous hours on a volunteer basis after school — are invaluable in providing a constructive influence in the lives of our students. Positive adult role models are a good thing.
The tangible benefits are manifest. Many students profit from the athletic programs by receiving college scholarships. Over the past two years at Spalding High School alone, two students have received football scholarships, six in soccer, three in basketball, 12 in cross country and one in wrestling. At Spalding High, it is mandatory for each football player to take the SAT or ACT and turn in academic progress reports. Coach Davis’s reasoning is that if a player is offered a scholarship, he will be otherwise ready and eligible to attend college.
Finally, it cannot be understated that the athletic programs give us a sense of community. At the Griffin-Spalding rivalry game, the stands were packed, and school spirit permeated the atmosphere. Our business Partners in Education were recognized at halftime and our superintendent was tweeting in real time. In a challenging economic time, our community found a place to come together, be entertained and see the splendor of our youth on full display. Neighbors of every color and economic circumstance joined under the Friday night lights to enjoy football and be engaged with our schools.
I have spent a good deal of time around the young men on our football teams and their coaches. I am proud of them and will continue to be an unapologetic supporter of our athletic programs. While these programs require all of us to have skin in the game, the dividends are well worth the investment.
Westbury represents District 2 on the Griffin-Spalding Board of Education.