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Making It Their Business to Help Athletics : Community colleges: Coaches are turning to the private sector to help finance extras for their teams.


When John Altobelli became the baseball coach at Orange Coast College, one of his priorities was to replace "the major eyesore at the field."

What drew his ire was a dented and rusting manual scoreboard next to the visitor's dugout.

"I think I had it taken down by the maintenance crew the second day I had the job," he said.

Next came the true challenge. Finding a way to replace the aging board with a nice electronic one.

Because of the slow economy and cuts in state funding to community colleges, there wasn't enough money in the OCC budget to purchase a scoreboard.

The reality is scoreboards and overnight trips and, in some cases, entire sports teams are luxuries community colleges can no longer afford without help from private corporations.

So Altobelli turned to what has long been a way of life for high school coaches: aggressive fund-raising.

"It kind of comes with the territory," he said. "If you want things to improve, you have to go out and raise the money. We are getting cutbacks like everybody else but the kids keep showing up to try out."

He anticipated it could take a couple of years to raise the approximately $50,000 needed but Planet Hollywood stepped in and in less than six months--before the season was half over--OCC had a new scoreboard behind the right field fence.

Besides showing the score by innings, the number of the batter and the count, the board has a large Planet Hollywood sign on top.

There were a few minor questions raised at board meetings from area residents who wondered why a public institution was serving as an advertisement for a private business.

Scott Pickler, the Cypress baseball coach, has tried in vain the past several years to get a similar scoreboard for his program. He has secured sponsorship twice but has been unable to get the college's administration to agree to the deals.

OCC also got financial help from Simple Green to fund the Orange County Simple Green Bowl, a season-ending football game. In return, there is a Simple Green banner across the scoreboard of the campus football stadium.

"It's frustrating but it's a fact of the day," said Walt Rilliet, who is the California Commissioner of Athletics for community colleges. "As a professional educator I feel we are giving away public education. But we must do everything we can to positively relate athletics to the community."

Barry Wallace, the OCC athletic director, agreed.

"I'm totally against fund-raising. We really work hard to give every program what it needs. But I'm well aware that coaches want extras in their programs we can't afford."

Last school year, there were 1,210 sports teams in California community colleges and 41 have since been cut, primarily because of budget considerations.

But Rilliet is quick to point out that 14 teams were added. East Los Angeles was the only college to cut football.

While some might see the number of teams lost as significant, Rilliet doesn't.

"We are very happy the colleges aren't coming after sports teams with a meat ax. They recognize the importance of what teams do for the college and the community."

Orange County's seven community colleges--Cypress, Fullerton, Golden West, Irvine Valley, Orange Coast, Rancho Santiago, and Saddleback--lost a total of three teams.

Saddleback dropped its men's and women's cross-county programs and Rancho Santiago stopped men's volleyball. The primary reason Saddleback chose to cut cross-country was that Irvine Valley, in the same district, offers it. Under state rules, students can attend Saddleback and compete at Irvine Valley because they are in the same district.

"We still have enough money to run our current programs," said Keith Calkins, the dean of physical education and athletics at Saddleback. "They wanted us to cut $30,000 and we're not happy about it. Especially when our area high schools are booming."

The situation at Rancho Santiago could have been much worse. First reports had at least four sports marked for termination.

But the athletic department made a counterproposal to make department-wide cuts, saving at least three sports for another year.

There is talk of large-scale fund-raising at Rancho Santiago to help support athletics but the department has been without official leadership since the summer of 1991, when Roger Wilson retired as athletic director.

"We're in kind of a holding pattern," said Don Sneddon, the baseball coach and interim athletic director. "This year is supposed to be worse than last year. We're trying to produce the same product with less money each year."

Fullerton has seen the same type of cutbacks, but the Hornet athletic department has undertaken an intense marketing campaign, thanks largely to sports information director Dave Schechter.

His is the first attempt to market the athletic program and he has had encouraging results.

Fullerton struck a deal with Nike in which the college gets a discount on shoes, uniforms and T-shirts that feature the Nike logo.

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