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FIELD OF GREEN : Raising a Bumper Crop to Fund High School Sports is No Easy Task

February 07, 1995|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A nd the Ford/Bank of America most valuable player of today's Toyota/Visa Southern Section Basketball Division I-AA boys' basketball championship sponsored by Vons and Adidas, is . . .

It could happen. Sponsor names are frequently tagged to premier sporting events already, such as the AT&T National Pro-Am golf tournament and the USF&G Sugar Bowl college football game.

Spiraling costs to maintain high school sports programs have forced individual schools, districts and sections to examine more extensive corporate sponsorships and alternative means of fund-raising.

Now, bingo, booster clubs and bake sales are barely enough to keep some athletic programs in the black.

"The schools pay for the balls and that's about it," said John Barnes, Los Alamitos athletic director and football coach. "There are not a lot of frills anymore."

Frills were hardly a concern for the Santa Ana Unified School District earlier this school year. Feeling the impact of the county's economic state, Santa Ana was considering cutting spring sports altogether.

According to Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley, the section was prepared to help the Santa Ana district financially and prevent such drastic measures.

Crowley has received assurances that the spring sports are safe in Santa Ana. But next year could be different.

So would the loss of athletic programs be detrimental to a school or its community? Just ask Century girls' basketball Coach Jeff Watts.

"This is about so much more than wins and losses," Watts said. "School is the one positive for some of these kids."

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Crowley has seen benefits and pitfalls of corporate sponsorship. But the bottom line for him is whether it is in the best interest for every student at every high school in the section.

"The problem is that some companies will always give their money to the haves--the Mater Deis, the Breas, the Palos Verdes," Crowley said. "That's understandable because they want to put their product where there is the highest visibility.

"But the schools that need the most help, that's where the money should be going."

The California Interscholastic Federation has been involved with corporate sponsorships since 1977. Currently, Toyota is the title sponsor of CIF championship events.

Although CIF and the Southern Section need the money, Toyota maintains a certain amount of control. That control is what many coaches and administrators fear.

"Toyota has the right of refusal for the basketball championship games," Crowley said. "For example, if Chevrolet was a big sponsor at The Pond, Toyota could ask us to move the event.

"But again, we have to use the best facility for our youngsters."

Last year, the Southern Section drew its best crowd, nearly 26,000 fans to The Pond of Anaheim, for its day-night sessions of the Divisions I-III basketball championships.

"There are alternatives to moving the event," Crowley said. "We could get permission from The Pond and cover up certain signs. There are other ways to compromise.

"But we'll jump that hurdle when we get to it."

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With the CIF and Southern Section taking the lead in obtaining corporate sponsors, Barnes has pondered what he could do to help his program at Los Alamitos.

"It's always been on my mind," Barnes said. "Maybe sell a sign or have a banner at our football games advertising the local grocery store or car dealer."

But he pointed out that it would be easier for Los Alamitos to use that type of fund-raising because it is the only high school in the district.

"In other districts, like Anaheim, it would be tougher because areas overlap and you could have schools fighting over advertisers," Barnes said.

For that reason, among others, Barnes figures he is one of the fortunate ones.

"Because of the success of our football program, we're fortunate to live better than most schools," Barnes said. "If that wasn't as successful. . . . "

Los Alamitos athletes could be subjected to higher transportation and participation fees, like students in the Irvine Unified School District.

Watts, who lives in Irvine, said fees up to $450 were required for those participating in some sports.

"At Woodbridge, my son had to pay either $250 or the equivalent in fund-raising to play baseball," Watts said. "There was also a $195 transportation fee. This varied on the sport. The more bus trips, the higher the transportation fee.

"The Santa Ana district has been pretty good for funding. We didn't have to ask for a transportation fee."

Barnes said at Los Alamitos there is a "nominal" bus fee, and there is little aversion to it.

"As a parent, I don't mind paying for kids to play," Barnes said. "I understand that it's an extra and I think most parents understand that and are really good about helping.

"Now it seems that every team needs a booster club because each team needs to be self-supportive."

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Capistrano Valley baseball Coach Dan Zamora has never relied on booster clubs. He simply devised another way to raise money.

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