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Staples Parents Become Significant Financial Provider for Wrecker Athletics

When it comes to athletic facilities in the state of Connecticut, it doesn’t get much better than Staples High School. Three turf fields, one brand new baseball diamond, one newly renovated field hockey field equipped with a press box and a new home for the concession stand and football coaches’ offices.

These facilities can be attributed in large part to one distinctive Westport group: booster parents.

“In a town like Westport there is not enough money to sustain athletics at the level we enjoy,” Principal John Dodig said. “If it weren’t for booster clubs, the athletic fields would not be the same today.”

It is incredible to think that in a town like Westport there is not enough money for athletics, but the fact of the matter is these are trying economic times. And to mainain the quality of equipment and facilities, players’ parents, through booster clubs, are picking up the slack.

According to Dodig, this year it is the goal of the Education Committee within the RTM to have a zero percent budget increase. In fact, Dodig said that some members have come out publicly and stated they want a negative percent increase.

When it comes to making these cuts , funds for athletics are often in jeopardy. Many Fairfield County schools, including Shelton High School, have begun to supplement school funding with pay-to-play systems.

The Shelton system requires parents or guardians to pay for their son or daughter to participate in high school athletics. Each sport ranges from $300 to $700, with a family limit of $750.

Dodig and Superintendent Elliott Landon both oppose a pay to play system because it can cause players to feel that they deserve playing time simply because they paid to play.

“I am opposed to a pay-to-play system because you begin to create a system that is patently unfair where the perception is that players are paying a coach’s salary,” Dodig said.

While Staples does not have the pay-to-play system, large funds are still generated from numerous booster clubs—parent organizations designed to promote fundraising for varsity sports. Participation in these booster clubs is high among families of varsity athletes, giving Staples qualities similar to pay to play systems. According to the Top of the Hill team’s website, 23 out of the 25 varsity boys’ soccer team’s families donated money to its booster club in 2010. The booster club’s website says, “Our goal is to have 100 percent participation of our current players and all alumni, who are able to contribute.”

Similar statistics are found in the football team’s booster club, The Gridiron Club. According to theclub’s website, 44 out of the 58 varsity football team’s families donated to its booster club in 2010. Likewise, 15 out the 23 varsity girls’ soccer team’s families contributed to their booster club.

“It is starting to get to that point and you ask yourself, ‘when is it enough?’ It is an unspoken rule in this town to donate money and it becomes quite an expense,” a parent of multiple Staples varsity athletes said when asked if Westport was turning into an unofficial pay-to-play system.

How Big A Boost?

Over the last few years, booster clubs have donated the money to build new facilities for the school’s athletics. The re-creation of the baseball diamond cost $350,000, the addition of concrete bleachers built into the hill on Loeffler Field hit $110,000 and the latest endeavor to build the new concession stand is going to cost upwards of $250,000. According to Athletic Director Marty Lisevick, all of the $710,000 were paid for by parent booster clubs.

“We are fortunate to have generous parents who are committed to Staples athletics and all of that is great when done for the right reasons,” Varsity Boys’ Soccer Coach Dan Woog said.

Woog’s team benefits from one of the school’s strongest booster clubs. In just its third year, the Top of the Hill Team has 78 members who have supplemented the athletic budget with $50,000 in additional funds raised during that time. However, as Woog pointed out, not all of the money for the soccer team comes from parent donations.

“Through carwashes and Quiz Night each year the kids are able to raise money each year that goes toward scholarships as well as paying for the fan buses to our games,” Woog said. “We want players to know that it’s not just about parents writing checks, but they have to take a part as well.”

Everybody’s Business

That said, the public nature of some booster clubs make parental donations difficult to ignor. Some booster clubs are public, meaning they post the names of their contributors on their websites. The Staples Diamond Club—the parent booster club for the varsity baseball team—does not post the names of their contributors on their website. However, the varsity football team, the boys’ varsity soccer team and girls’ varsity soccer team all post the names of their contributors on its websites, listing them in order from largest to smallest.

Some believe that this means some families donate just for recognition. “I do believe that if the giving were to be given anonymously, the contributions would be less sadly,” an unidentified parent of a Staples athlete said.Others still believe that names of donators should not be published on websites even though it may result in fewer contributions.

“I have never been a big fan of putting the names of those who donated online. I put the emphasis on the good things happening for the kids and not the individual recognition for the donors” Lisevick said.

While Lisevick doesn’t believe in making the names and the amounts of donations public, it is the belief of Gridiron Board chair Dan DeVito that the parents deserve the public affirmation.

“We post the names to allow the parents to be recognized for their efforts because they deserve it,” DeVito said.

Since the booster clubs’ beginning in 1992, according to DeVito the Staples Gridiron Club has raised well over a half-million dollars not including private donations. The successful fundraising efforts of this booster club have allowed for $1,000 to be subsidized to athletes who could not afford equipment this season.

The things that that the Gridiron Club provides, DeVito points out, are due in part to the level of funding from the Board of Education. As the Staples football team website says, “Unfortunately, it’s also not accomplished by the budget provided for the football program by the Board of Ed.”

Supplementing the BOE

With just $80,000 being allocated by the Board of Ed to the 36 varsity teams at Staples, Chairman Donald O’Day said the town can only do so much.

“We at the Board of Ed make the most of the limited budget that we have. We do everything that we can to support athletics, but it has to be considered in the whole school system. If parents, players and coaches desire more, then they have to go about that themselves,” O’Day said.

Though $80,000 is allocated specifically for the use of purchasing supplies for the 36 varsity sports teams, according to Lisevick $30,000 alone is set aside for the boys’ and girls’ varsity ice hockey teams and $10,000 are set aside for athletic trainers. This leaves $40,000 for the 34 remaining varsity teams.

According to their respective websites, for the 2010 seasons, The Gridiron Club raised $23,425 from membership donations for the varsity football team, The Top of The Hill Team raised $21,400 from donations for the boys’ varsity soccer team and The Staples Girls’ Soccer Booster Club raised $10,825 from donations for the girls’ staples soccer team.

Combined, these three booster clubs raised $55,650 – an amount greater than what the BOE gives the 34 remaining varsity teams, including varsity football, varsity boys’ soccer and varsity girls’ soccer.

Since parents are already donating significant amounts to varsity sports, the question becomes should the parents be the ones privately funding athletic expenses. This is a question that former BOE member Kristin LaFleur thought about during her time on the board. Elected in 2005, LaFleur is grateful, yet worried, when it comes to booster club support.

“My real concern was that parents should not feel obligated to contribute,” LaFleur said. “First, I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of our parents. These are trying times, and parents should not feel that their child’s participation or level of participation is contingent on the size of their donation.”

LaFleur, who currently serves as the vice president of the Westport Young Women’s League, said the pressure to offer money should not deter an athlete from participating in the school’s athletic program.

However, some feel that parents contribute to a booster club because they think it will increase their child’s participation on a team.

As one parent put it, “It is certainly not an intentional thing but [donating money] must be a desire. We have families who donate a lot and have their sons and daughters play a lot.”

In addition to worrying about the opposing team, coaches are now forced to deal with the parents who contribute large sums of money to benefit their child’s standing on the team.

“It is a slippery slope,” Woog said. “It is my job as the coach to continually emphasize that it is all about the ongoing health and success of the program and not the individuals. It is a very difficult situation which is why I don’t get involved in the raising of funds.”

Although Staples has a system with qualities similar to that of an unofficial pay-to-play system in place, it is the generous donations of parents and booster clubs that allows Staples to provide its athletes with the equipment and facilities that it does.

“Booster clubs help tremendously and we would not be sitting on four artificial turf fields, brand new soccer bleachers and state of the art baseball diamond without them,” Lisevick said.

Ross Gordon ’11, Becca Boborow ’11, and Petey Menz ’11 also contributed to this pieve

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