Thomas R. Proctor High School football Coach Jerry Fiorini held up a helmet Thursday and pointed to a tiny crack on top.
The split in the plastic is near a valve that connects to an air cushion inside that protects a player’s head. Because of the crack, the helmet can’t be used.
This year, 70 of the helmets, half of the entire stock, failed the annual safety inspection and have to be replaced. Not all of them were damaged. Many had hit their 10-year expiration date and can’t be used anymore.
To replace the helmets, $14,000 of the district’s $30,000 equipment budget will have to be used.
“That’s one sport, one piece of equipment,” Board of Education member Donald Dawes said.
The Utica City School District budget adopted last month included more than $200,000 in cuts to 22 sports teams. It’s clear the sports program needs some outside help, said Dawes, who chairs the district’s Physical Education and Athletics Committee.
There are individual team booster clubs, but he’s hoping to set up a permanent foundation or all-sports booster run by Utica business people, professionals in the community and parents that can help ease some of the troubles in the program.
Mount Markham success
It worked in the Mount Markham Central School District. When junior varsity and a handful of varsity sports were cut last June, a core group of concerned parents and school officials banded together and raised $30,000 by December. It saved the programs for the 2011-12 school year.
“It paid for everything,” Mount Markham Athletic Director Kathy Faber said. “It paid for transportation. It covered coaches’ salaries, supplies, officials.”
The group, which started with $6,000 from a defunct booster club, focused on saving fall sports first, then the spring sports.
To raise the $24,000, it conducted cash-for-gold parties, pancake breakfasts, bottle-and-can drives, a raffle for heating fuel and a glow golf tournament. Also, Hidden Valley Outdoor Sports donated the admission price for one day to help save the sports programs.
“It was a lot of work,” Faber said. “It was a whirlwind of activity to get it in.”
No sports were cut out of the 2012-13 budget, and Faber said the booster club is consolidating, setting up bylaws and getting organized formally.
“We jumped right into it as a group of people who wanted to save athletics,” Faber said. “We’re going to keep at it. (But now) it’s going to be a refocus of how we’re going to spend the money.”
New York Mills recently started a booster club for its sports and a larger community foundation for anything the school might need.
“What the (booster club) is trying to do is raise money through concessions stands and some fundraising,” Athletic Director Andrea Dziekan said. “It’s becoming more important now because of the budget cuts.”
For the 2010-11 school year, Holland Patent parents raised and donated 8,243 to the Board of Education to add modified lacrosse for students.
“The board approved it if they raised a certain amount,” Athletic Director John Bubb said. “We started with boys modified two years ago.”
The next year, the parents raised money and donated another $10,756 to fund a junior varsity and modified teams at the school.
“It’s not school funded at all,” Bubb said.
Notre Dame shines
Dawes also pointed to the success of Notre Dame Junior-Senior High School’s fundraising efforts as an example of what Utica could do.
The Catholic school’s raffle in April raised $70,000, not for sports but for the school’s general fund.
Jim Jones, the school’s enrollment and development director, said 1,000 people packed into the high school gymnasium and 2,000 tickets were sold.
“It was a wonderful event,” Jones said. “It’s a big chunk of our funding.”
Other fundraising events in past years for the school have included bringing in current and former New York Yankees such as Bernie Williams, Brett Gardner and Bucky Dent for signing events.
The point of trying to organize some type of group to shore up the athletic program boils down to keeping students in school.
“It’s not so much about sports as it’s getting them from kindergarten to graduation,” Dawes said. “There’s a good number of kids who come to school because they play sports.”