By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
The Florence High School football team walked out of its locker room this season with a new kind of swagger.
Despite a $4 million statewide education budget shortfall, the Buffaloes received new uniforms for the first time in years because of donations from the Florence Athletic Booster Club - a viable source of revenue for the small school district.
"They'd gotten used to playing in old stuff that it was just like, from a kid's point of view, I don't believe they really thought anybody cared," said Paul Smith, athletic director and head football coach in Florence. "Now they're getting new stuff to play in, and they appreciate it, and you're starting to see a difference in their performance. It ties in to winning. It ties into changing that culture at Florence, and it's a process."
School district athletic departments are relying more heavily on limited revenue sources to help curb some of the costs of the state's cutbacks.
"Where we get some of our budget for athletics is through fundraising - through our activity account, and our booster clubs in Lampasas do a great job," said Joey McQueen, athletic director and head football coach. in Lampasas. "As the word says, 'booster,' - they do a good job of supporting us and giving us money for extra things."
For Smith, the booster club does more than just supplement his modest $99,500 budget, which was decreased from 2010-11's $102,500. Due to a $25,000 anonymous donation, the second-year athletic director was able to add a trainer to his staff.
After dividing the budget among more than a dozen high school sports and a handful of junior high sports, Smith said Florence would've been hard-pressed to continue its athletic program without school-sponsored fundraisers and booster club donations.
"We just get by. There are no frills or thrills; it's what we need," Smith said. "Without the booster club, we couldn't have done it."
Booster clubs and activity accounts
Money raised from school-sponsored fundraisers goes into activity accounts and are used for everything from meals to weight-room supplies.
"It's lot of little things that you don't really think about, like wrist straps for the weight room and batteries for the water machines," Smith said. "It's little stuff like that you just don't have money in the budget for that you've got to pay for and you've got to take care of it somehow."
While schools are limited in the number of fundraisers they can sponsor, independent booster clubs don't have to follow the same restrictions, although they must adhere to certain University Interscholastic League and school district-specific guidelines.
The groups raise money in a variety of ways, such as running concession stands, selling T-shirts and putting on tournaments. The money must be submitted to an administrator - usually the superintendent or school principal - as a donation before it's transferred to the sports budget.
Booster club members can recommend how the money is spent, but it is ultimately the athletic director and school district's decision on how to spend it. In many cases, the money is used for something a team or program wants but does not necessarily need.
For Florence and other districts like it, wants and needs are sometimes the same thing. "When I got there (in 2009), we needed uniforms, and we didn't get them until this last year," Smith said. "We played in a set of white (away) jerseys that were six years old and then the purple (home) jerseys were four years old. That's unheard of."
Smith said the basketball uniforms haven't been replaced since 2001. "There's not money in the budget to buy uniforms."
As more budget cuts are expected in the coming year, more athletic programs will turn to their booster clubs and community for even more financial support.
"I think, they're going to play an integral part of it - they already do," Smith said. "A community like Lake Travis, they have more resources financially than a community like Florence. Their kids are going to have nicer stuff and they're going to be able to do things at a different level."
Contrary to popular belief, ticket sales from games does not bolster athletic budgets. Instead, those funds go into a school's general operation fund for the following year.
Copperas Cove officials estimated the school district received about $188,000 in ticket sales last year. In comparison to its $77 million budget, Superintendent Rose Cameron said it doesn't make a huge difference but does factor into the budget-building process.
"It's not something that we can rely on because we don't know if it's coming or not," she said. "It's not the same way we figure our revenue from say the state or from our taxpayers. Again, it's not a huge amount."
Because the money ultimately goes back into the district's budget, Tom Rogers, athletic director for the Killeen school district, said when he was building his 2011-12 budget, he started by moving the district's intra-city football games from Thursday nights or Saturday afternoons to Friday night, the most recognizable and profitable night for Texas high school football.
"I said, 'Money's money,' we need to get the most we can," Rogers said. "So, I moved our higher revenue games, which is those first three weeks, we moved to those to Fridays."
Smith said he hopes the state resolves its funding issues and school districts can replace what they've lost.
"I hope that they remember where they cut and what they cut out for the kids, and I hope they put it back in athletics," Smith said. "I think athletics is a very integral part of the school. I think it produces a well-rounded citizen, and it makes it such that the kids want to come to school and be a part of and support their school."
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.