Since the passage of Proposition 13, many high schools have been struggling financially, and money for athletics has been hard to come by. At many Southern California high schools, booster clubs have stepped in to close the gap between the amount of money that schools can allocate to sports and other extracurricular activities and the amount that is required.
Booster clubs have long been in the business of raising money, putting on occasional events such as pancake breakfasts to send a school band to an out-of-state competition or a basketball team to far-away tournaments.
But fund raising has become an on-going activity, particularly in football, the sport that requires the most money because it has more players than the others. Football players also need expensive equipment, costly medical insurance and two or three buses to take them to games on the road.
Fund raising is no longer limited to pancake breakfasts, hawking game programs at the gate or selling hot dogs and sodas at concession stands.
These days the parents or school alumni who make up booster clubs have become vendors of many things: foam-rubber hands with fingers that show a team is No. 1, raffle tickets, seat cushions with school colors and crests and hats, pins, scarfs and balloons. The list is endless.
Other ways of raising money include jog-a-thons and lift-a-thons (where athletes lift weights to garner pledges from donors). There are celebrity basketball or softball games or games between school teams and alumni or between students and faculty members. There are dances and social mixers. In jurisdictions where it is legal, some booster clubs run bingo games.
Stan Thomas, CIF-Southern Section athletics commissioner, was a coach before he moved into administration. From 1964 through 1974, Thomas was the head football coach at Neff High School in La Mirada, where his teams won nine league titles and two CIF championships.
Thomas said that when he was coaching at Neff, which has since closed because of declining enrollment, "we didn't have a booster club because I didn't want an extended period of involvement with a club.
"We did have an unofficial group of parents who were so willing that when I asked them to do something they did it and we had a lot of success.
"But times have changed and needs have changed. There's a whole new perspective. If I were coaching football today, I would want to have a booster club because the team would need their financial support."
He said school boards are always looking for ways to cut budgets and that athletics and other programs are one direction in which the boards often look. When financial cuts are made in sports, booster clubs often step in.
"If we're talking about the survival of athletics in the Southern Section," he said, "I think you will find that booster clubs (are becoming) very important in augmenting (funds for) high school athletics programs."
At Banning High School, which has had an athletic booster group since 1958 and where football is king and gets most of the attention, Athletic Director Andrew Nelson said the club is vital. Banning has won 12 Los Angeles City football championships, 10 of them under Coach Chris Ferragamo, who will be coaching at Harbor College in the fall. Nelson said Banning club members "raise thousands and thousands each season, and the school can't afford to support the football program all by itself.
"We wouldn't have a football program without the booster club."
Louis Ramirez, athletic director at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, said his athletic program could exist without the Dads Club, but would not flourish.
He said the club, which admits women and elects them as officers, contributes from $20,000 to $35,000 a year to the school and gives more money to instructional and other school programs than it donates to athletics.
Club members lend invaluable assistance at the school's concession stands at the athletic stadium, he said. "I ran the concession stands for three years, and it was just a pain."
He said that since 1968, club member Joe Reed, whose children have graduated from Birmingham, has operated the concessions and has produced food and drink more cheaply and at a higher profit than when it was run by the school.
Ramirez said that club members who man the concession stands "do a lot of hard work, which saves us thousands and thousands of hours of work. Without them, we would still have an athletic program--but on a more frugal rate. Without them, our program would be less enriched."
The successful football program at Muir High in Pasadena doesn't need much enrichment, possibly because it is strongly supported by no less than four booster groups, all of which raise funds to provide things that the school district cannot pay for.
One group consists of football players, another of parents, a third of alumni and a fourth of residents and businessmen.