By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Joey McQueen likes coaches to attend training clinics and young athletes to receive letter jackets, but in the wake of budget restrictions, these expenses are ones the Lampasas athletic director cut.
One of McQueen's major focusses was his travel budget, but he didn't stop there.
Told to shave 10 percent off the athletic budget by Lampasas Superintendent Randall Hoyer, McQueen cut nearly 23 percent.
"It's just one of those things where in any business, which the school system is, you have a budget; and to maintain your company, you have to cut and save and that's one thing that we've done in Lampasas as well as other people around this area," said McQueen, who also is the Badgers head football coach.
Athletic programs in the region felt the sting of the state's financial shortfall when the Texas Legislature cut $4 billion from its education budget this summer.
Five of the seven school districts in the Herald's coverage area decreased their athletic budgets by eliminating once-commonplace expenditures that now seem excessive in light of the financial duress districts face.
"If it's something that's extravagant and we don't need it and it really looks that way, then we're not going to do it," said Tom Rogers, athletics director for the Killeen Independent School District.
In an effort to compensate for the budgetary decreases, some districts could face layoffs.
Lampasas eliminated two assistant soccer coaching positions - though both
former coaches remain teachers - and replaced one longtime varsity girls head basketball coach with a current staff member. The coach still teaches and remains the girls golf coach.
"If you're really going to save money in a school district, you've really got to cut people," said McQueen. "What a lot of schools are doing now is they're doing it through absorption, so when someone leaves, you just take up the slack with other coaches."
With the idea to keep the state's cutbacks out of the classroom and with fuel prices more than $3 a gallon, most athletic directors are finding ways to keep their student-athletes closer to home in an effort to trim one of the most bloated aspects of their budgets.
"Travel is what it is - it doesn't get any shorter from here to Bryan," said Rogers. "But what happens with your travel is your fuel expenses go up and our cost for buses goes up."
Easiest area to cut
But some of those expenses are beyond the control of athletic directors. Every two years, the University Interscholastic League aligns sports districts and regions and subsequently imposes transportation requirements.
Still, districts found that transportation budgets are the easiest to trim by cutting preseason and tournament traveling expenses and by comparing the most cost-effective ways of getting to games.
"We used to (go to) three sub-varsity tournaments for baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball and we cut it down to two," said McQueen.
The days of weekend sporting-event excursions and school-funded coaching clinics are gone. Instead, more schools are hosting tournaments instead of traveling, and coaches are paying for their own development. Cutting the extravagant expenses was just the tip of the iceberg, though.
Last year, the Killeen school district instituted a travel policy that requires all teams to stay within a 200-mile range of Killeen or within 2½ hours one-way for nondistrict games and tournaments. To reduce the amount of back-and-forth travel and overnight stays, some schools, such as Lampasas, have cut the number of sub-varsity tournaments from the UIL-allowed three, to two, but not everyone thinks that's a good idea.
"I feel like making somebody go from three tournaments to two tournaments ... that's a direct effect on the kids," said Kyle Cooper, athletic director and head football coach in Gatesville. "If you're talking a 30-game season and you take away even three games - one tournament - that's a tenth of their games. As the head football coach, I don't want to lose one of my football games."
How high school teams are getting to their games, specifically football playoff and long-distance games, also is a consideration for athletic directors.
Most often, the decision to take a school bus or a charter bus boils down to a cost-per-mile formula.
"We only get a charter bus when we don't have a driver for a yellow bus or if it's over 150 miles," said Rogers. "(Football) goes on a charter bus because of all the storage underneath. We couldn't go on a yellow bus with a (varsity) football team because they would have to rent another vehicle, like the band does, to haul all the equipment that they carry with them. If you're going to rent another huge vehicle to carry all of your stuff, then you're just defeating the purpose."
Contact Kevin Posival at email@example.com or (254) 501-7562.
By the numbers: Student travel budgets*
School 2010-2011* 2011-2012
Copperas Cove $108,340 $100,706
Ellison $96,150 $112,833
Harker Heights $70,890 $112,833
Killeen $71,867 $111,983
Shoemaker $81,606 $112,833
*Notes: 2010-11 numbers reflect the actual amount spent, while 2011-12 is an estimate. Figures do not include expenses for playoff games.