With enrollment flat or decreasing and revenues stalling correspondingly, the White Pine County School District is struggling to preserve and advance its middle and high school sports programs, employing students and alumni alike in a battle plan they hope will keep the Bobcat and Cougar teams in the positive headlines.
Taking a leading role in the campaign is former White Pine High School principal, now superintendent of schools, Adam Young, a graduate himself of the local institutions.
Young said that the state of Nevada allocates funds to the schools based on student population, and that decreases in the school census numbers cost the district more than a million in revenue last year and will do even more damage to the district’s budget in the 2016-17 school year.
“As enrollment drops, revenue drops,” Young said. “During that time, it doesn’t get less expensive to do business.”
Citing the costs of retaining experienced teachers, rising insurance rates and other necessary expenditures, the district is being hit from all sides and is now backed up against a wall, having already slashed professional and administrative services in previous budgets, leaving only sports programs left to meet the axe.
“Everything that could have been cut has been cut,” Young said, noting that the district was already down one math and English teacher going into next year and that the district’s music program was “bare bones.”
With money as dry as the local hillsides in the summer time, Young said the school board held several meetings and got input from parents, coaches and kids, but was faced with having to cut the athletic budget by $90,000.
On the high school level alone, the cuts would affect football, boys and girls soccer, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, softball, baseball and boys and girls track. While the district won’t be funding any middle school sports programs, Young said that the White Pine Middle School administration, staff, and volunteers would be fundraising to finance the entire budget.
Young said that the board discussed cutting the most expensive sports as well as those with the lowest participation. But in the end, the decision makers didn’t seem to be able to stomach either option, Young said, noting that providing opportunities to kids was too overwhelming a priority.
“All of us who have coached know that kids learn a lot about life in athletics,” Young said. “Some of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned came from playing basketball: teamwork, persistence, overcoming adversity, hard work.”
He said that the board decided that instead of cutting specific programs, they asked the teams to tighten their belts and spend less money. They decided to do what they could to hire local refs instead of bringing them in from out of town, for example, and to ask the teams to do fundraising.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable impossibility of the task, school athletes, parents, local businesses and alumni have stepped up and have been working tirelessly to fill the financial gaps in an effort to save the sports programs. Although there is still a glaring $30,000-$40,000 hole in the budget, Young said that all high school sports programs are slated to run this next school year.
“We’ve made a lot of progress filling that gap,” Young said.
Young said he was most proud of the students that took the lead in raising money for the programs, seeing as they were the one who would benefit most from them. He said that the students recently held Bobcat and Ladycat commitment challenges, where athletes and future athletes pursued pledges from businesses and community members for laps they ran in an hour. The same night, students participated in the Iron Athlete Challenge, this time collecting pledges for the number of jump squats, push-ups and pull-ups they could do in 15 minutes.
“Some kids earned upwards of a 1,000 bucks just themselves,” Young said, stating that one night’s work earned the program $29,000, with funds still trickling in.
Young said that while it can be painful to look at the situation with a critical eye, it gives the district a great opportunity to be more efficient and to get students to buy in and take ownership of their school and school programs.
“I think sometimes kids in this generation get unfairly criticized for being self-absorbed and myopic in their world view,” he said. “Throughout this whole process, our student-athletes have had opportunity to be a part of a solution instead of sitting around complaining about the things they don’t like.”
Other upcoming events include the White Pine Athletic Boosters’ “Beer, Fun, and Dance” night on July 4, an annual event where alumni get to buy a burger, some booze and socialize at the county park across from the middle school. Also, on July 15 and 16, a one-pitch softball tournament will be held at Marrich Field on McGill Highway. The Boosters will also host a booth at the upcoming First Friday event, where community members can learn more about the organization and ways they can help.
Young said that there will be a big alumni outreach program that’s going on in the month of July as well, again conducted by the Boosters, who hope to tap resources that are not in the community anymore rather than the local businesses that are hit up every time money needs to be raised.
“People are very generous to the kids in the community,” Young said, noting the contribution of local businesses.
The Boosters are also putting together programs to give the stadium naming rights, signage, multiple sports season ticket packages, ads in the seasonal sports program, PA announcements during games, shirts, hats and car decals. Memberships start at $35 and rise to as much as $50,000 for top tier players.
On the middle school level, volunteers are working to get one hour of happy hour proceeds donated from different bars in the area on July 4, after the parade, from approximately 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.
According to Nichole Baldwin, who is coordinating the effort, jars will be placed in the establishments, as well, so patrons can make donations.
Baldwin will publish a flier containing a bar crawl schedule at each participating bar and on local Facebook groups for those who want to travel from bar to bar to support the cause. For more information, Baldwin can be contacted at 775-293-0103.
Middle school volunteers will also hold the 1st Annual Community Yard Sale on July 30 at the County Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rental space is $25 (cash only) and includes a table. Contact Leia Wells at 208-703-1423 for more information. Vendors will keep the profits from what they sell, though organizers are looking for the donation of items that they can sell to directly benefit the middle school sports program. Contact Sharyl Allen at 775-289-4841, ext 3103 for information on making donations prior to July 30.
They are also seeking donations of baked goods for a cake walk and are also seeking sponsors for events or those who can make donations. Volunteers are also being sought to help with baking, monitoring a bounce house, working the cotton candy machine, and the cake walk. The contact for these activities is Maggie Reed at 775-293-2970.
Beyond just holding fundraisers, Young said that the district is pushing parents and community members to lobby their state legislative leaders, urging them to provide the same educational resources that larger school districts and their students receive so that the district and it’s supporters don’t have to continue to do all the extra-curricular activities year after year, in order to have the same programs and benefits larger schools take for granted.
“The state allocated increases in spending for the current biennium, but nearly all of these resources came as categorical funds, which can only be spent in the way prescribed through the grant process,” Young said. “The District has done very well in earning this grant money, through the hard work and time spent by the principals in submitting excellent grant applications. But the grant funds don’t always match what our needs are.
Young said that White Pine is not unique in it’s quest to keep sports programs going..
“Other counties are struggling as well,” he said. “We need parents and community members to contact their legislators about how rural communities deserve the equity and access to education that comes to big places, too.”
Striking a positive note, Young said that this was a great opportunity to come together as a town and support the kids and each other.
“I’m so proud of our kids, so proud of our teachers, and super appreciative of the support we have in this community from parents and businesses,” Young said. “When they say ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ that is really true. A school cannot do it without the support of a community. We really, really appreciate the support given to our schools, and look forward to even more of it.”