Budget cuts to public education due to the state’s revenue shortfall has forced school administrators across Oklahoma to make tough decisions, including trimming money for maintenance and transportation, as well as the possibility of eliminating teaching and support staff.
But how do these cuts affect high school athletics?
Nowhere near as harsh.
Ardmore City Schools has slashed its operations fund for athletics by 50 percent, but that percentage may not be as bad as one might think; the best news is no coaching positions will be on the chopping block — at least for the upcoming school year.
Instead, Ardmore is being creative in how it will save money.
“It’s supplies,” Ardmore Public Schools superintendent Sonny Bates said. “Take, for instance, shoulder pads. We look at the shoulder pads, and even if they were fresh after two or three years, we would replace them. Instead of replacing during the upcoming school year, we will see the condition of the shoulder pads, and if they can be re-certified, we can save them.”
But Bates wanted to make it clear that the school district will never compromise player safety.
“When it comes to prevent learning, equipment or getting hurt, we won’t cut money for that,” he said.
Ardmore has been fortunate in that community members have donated money to help off-set some of those costs.
Earlier this year, Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham donated $34,000 worth of equipment to his alma mater’s football and basketball programs, including new shorts, custom-made jerseys, backpacks, practice shorts and hoodies.
Other Ardmoreites have stepped up, as well.
Construction of a new turf field at Noble Stadium is ongoing, and not one cent was spent by the school district; everything was privately financed, Bates said.
“We’re okay in athletics,” he said.
Lone Grove superintendent Meri Jayne Miller has seen booster clubs in town step up their efforts even more and use fundraisers as means to help pay for sports equipment.
“We have been fortunate to where we have not had to reduce any coaching staff through attrition,” she said. “We lost four certified positions (within the teaching staff) because people left and two that weren’t certified who left and will not be replaced.”
Miller added that over the last few years that coaches have had to assume duties in other sports and also have even taken on responsibilities, including instruction of an elementary school physical education class.
“We have a set amount for our extra-curricular activities every year,” she said. “If we had our way, we would have more staff and add more money. We’re just not able to do that.”
Plainview superintendent Karl Stricker closely monitors the budget, just in case any action might need to be taken, including the reduction of travel or games.
“Athletics programs are different kinds of funds,” he said. “We have had to absorb some positions where teaching staff has left and those positions have not been filled. But, as far as athletics, nothing has been cut.”
The biggest impact that is being felt in athletics departments across the state is through the elimination of teaching jobs or school personnel taking jobs elsewhere in Oklahoma or in another state.
Plainview lost four coaches throughout its athletics program this season and all but one will be replaced.
“We have positioned ourselves pretty well,” Stricker said. “We foresaw things like this coming. It is hurting us. We watch travel really closely. However, we are lucky because most of our travel is within an hour or less.”
Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association assistant director David Glover says many districts are in the same position as Ardmore, Lone Grove and Plainview.
“It’s more about the teachers and staffing,” he said. “I heard a lot of schools are doing away with assistant coaches. Some of the spring sports like golf and tennis are trying to save by doing away with assistant coaches. I have not heard of anything in basketball or football. I know of one person that has had to coach both boys and girls basketball. But I have not heard of any activities being dropped.”