Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Schools tackle sports travel costs as they wrestle with budget woes

By BRANDON HOWELL
Capital News Service

LANSING – Athletic departments in St. Joseph County are getting by with less by trimming their budgets.

Sturgis High School Athletic Director Mark Adams said his school has made team travel less expensive.

And in Three Rivers, similar cost-saving efforts are underway.

“What we’ve started to do on the weekend for things like tournaments is provide the drop-off for athletes and parents pick them up,” Three Rivers Community Schools Superintendent Roger Rathburn said.

Schools across the state are also tackling the cost of their sports programs as district wrestle with budget problems.

Sturgis has a fleet of seven Chevy Suburbans that coaches use to transport their players, Adams said. “It’s a huge savings compared to buses.”

Adams said the gas cost for the Suburbans is 50 cents per mile, compared to $1 per mile for buses.

The school began purchasing the SUVs around 1999.

Freshmen, junior varsity and varsity athletes in most sports – except football, cross-country and some basketball teams – use the Suburbans on a regular basis.

Adams said the SUVs allow his program to save money in more ways than one.

“Fuel costs stay down, but we don’t have to pay a bus driver,” Adams said. “Bus drivers make somewhere between $13 and $16 an hour. So think about a tennis trip on a weekend, when they’re staying there all day – that’s $160, just in bus driver cost.”

The athletic department’s budget will be cut by 10 percent next year, as well, Adams said. But he doesn’t expect to make any major changes.

“It will be 10 percent off of each varsity team’s budget, which covers junior varsity and freshmen teams,” he said. “We have a great athletics booster club, and we’ll have to rely on them to fill the gap a little bit more than we have in the past.”

Rathburn said Three Rivers’ athletic cuts haven’t been drastic so far.

“Our cuts have been pretty minimal,” he said. “We watch the supply budget closer. We can’t purchase all the equipment items we once did. You just trim wherever you can.”

Rathburn said some events – particularly winter ones – proved costly.

“Volleyball and wrestling tournaments would last all day long. We would be paying bus drivers layover time to stay there all day. Any one day doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when they’re going every single weekend, that adds up to a few thousand dollars, he said.

John Johnson, director of communications for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, said cuts to athletic travel funding aren’t new.

“Look at Grand Ledge,” he said. “They cut all funding for return transportation from athletic events.”

Grand Ledge, west of Lansing, announced in November it would no longer provide return transportation from events. That measure, along with other cuts to its athletic department, will save about $227,000.

Johnson said those kinds of travel cuts are “on everybody’s radar. It’s a sign of the times,” he said.

“It brings with it some risks, like having multiple vehicles carrying student athletes or, God forbid, kids driving themselves. Or maybe someone gets lost on their way returning from an athletic event,” Johnson said.

“But these are different times now,” he continued. “These are calls that schools have to make, and they have to take into account the safety and well-being of their young people when they make these decisions.”

Adams said the Sturgis sports program hasn’t looked into travel changes as dramatic as Grand Ledge’s.

Nor has Three Rivers, according to Rathburn. He did note that the Wolverine Conference is looking at ways to reduce expenses for member schools while remaining consistent across the league.

For example, he said the conference is considering fewer freshmen and junior varsity contests, as well as using fewer officials for basketball games.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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