SAN MARINO — A private school in Mississippi will pay $25,000 to bring San Marino High School's football team to the Deep South in September for a rematch.
The San Marino Board of Education last week accepted the unusual all-expenses-paid offer made by the Jackson Academy of Jackson, Miss., after the school played--and lost to--San Marino last fall.
San Marino football fans see the offer as irresistible. In September, they threw a series of giant welcoming parties for the 400 students, faculty and families from Jackson who traveled 2,000 miles and spent four days in the area for the football game with San Marino.
Now the academy and its booster club plan to raise money to help finance the exchange.
Educators praised last year's game for the many educational exchanges it stimulated among students, but called it a one-time-only event because they did not want to use school money to finance play in Mississippi.
Cost Borne by Donations
The cost of entertaining the Mississippi delegation was borne by donations because of the school district's tight budget.
Although the proposed return match in Jackson has the enthusiastic endorsement of the San Marino Boosters Club and the Board of Education, some wonder if it could jeopardize pleas for financial help for the city's schools.
After losing two attempts to raise a special tax in recent years, San Marino's Educational Foundation plans to launch a major fund drive for between $2 million and $3 million to add to the school budget. Educators say the district suffers financially because students in the prosperous community rank among the highest academically in the state, precluding the district from getting any of the state's special funding that most districts receive for disadvantaged students.
"Even if the trip doesn't cost us anything, it may be a wrong signal to people as to the condition of our resources," said Selma Sax, who cast the only opposing vote at last week's school board meeting.
"Is this the right time to be doing something like this?" asked Richard Sprunger, who has two children in district schools.
"Would taking this trip impair our fund-raising abilities?" Sprunger asked. "We're trying to get money from Sacramento to rehabilitate school buildings, we have 10 classrooms that are closed because they don't meet earthquake standards and we have to consider teacher salaries. I don't know how we would be viewed in Sacramento after taking such a trip.
'Pay Their Own Way'
Sax and Sprunger said they are not "anti-athletics or anti-field trips" and will support the school board's decision to back the trip.
San Marino High School Principal Donald Banderas said the $25,000 gift would cover plane fare, room and board, and ground transportation for 45 football players and about 10 coaches and administrators.
"If others want to go, they pay their own way," Banderas said. "The key element in acceptance of the offer is there will be absolutely no fund raising" that might compete with that of the Educational Foundation, he said.
"We look at it like any kind of field trip, a chance for something unique," Banderas said.
The game is scheduled for Sept. 23, and would be San Marino's second game of the season. The team plans to leave Sept. 21 and return Sept. 24.
A Compatible School
Last year San Marino beat Jackson 21-0 and went on to win its CIF Division championship. Most of the top players will graduate this year, Banderas said, leaving next year's team an unknown quantity.
The game was the result of two years of research and negotiations by Jackson Academy, which searched all over the country for a compatible high school that its team could challenge. In accepting, San Marino officials said they could never arrange an exchange and the teams would never meet again.
Jackson Academy Headmaster Peter Jernberg said last year's game triggered educational and cultural exchanges that far exceeded students' and faculty expectations.
"We profited so tremendously from the experience that we wanted to give San Marino people the same opportunity," Jernberg said. "It turned out that football was secondary to the educational, social and cultural values the students received. So we felt we would provide this avenue to come to Mississippi, and to return their hospitality."
Jernberg said money to pay for the trip will come from corporate sponsorships, gate proceeds and promotional sales of T-shirts and novelties.
'An Affair Like This'
San Marino Supt. Gary Richards said school districts are not prohibited from using their own funds for trips, "but we wouldn't spend district money for an affair like this."
Sax said she opposes the trip partly because of the need to hire substitutes to replace faculty members who will travel to Mississippi and because of the possible lapse in education at the school during the two school days when so many students and teachers would be away.