By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre Public Schools may consider lending its affiliation to two local youth sports teams if they can raise three years' worth of funding by June 25.
Both teams - girls fast pitch softball and boys cross country - unsuccessfully attempted last month to have their teams sanctioned by the school district. School board members and district administrators said Havre Public Schools cannot afford to support the two teams.
Supporters of the teams say that although both teams compete against other high schools, without the district's affiliation those contests are considered nonconference, and students are prohibited from wearing HHS uniforms, participating in season-end tournaments and using district transportation. They also say participants are robbed of scholarship opportunities because many colleges do not recruit club players.
After the May 11 school board meeting, supporters of both programs met with district administrators to discuss whether the district could adopt the sports if they are privately funded.
HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller said today that if the teams can raise enough money and follow certain guidelines, he will develop a proposal for the school board to vote on at its July 13 meeting.
The guidelines include establishing an initial plan to raise funds, developing a plan to raise funding annually to ensure the sustainability of the programs, and approaching corporate sponsors "in a manner that is appropriate," he said.
"I also requested that they understand the larger philosophical issues that the board will have to deal with," Miller said.
"When you start up a new activity, when times are as tight as they are in Montana, the impression of legislators is that potentially you're not spending your dollars in the most efficient manner, and potentially some people in the community feeling the same way. Very clearly, I'd want to go on record as saying that if new programs are started, it would not be using taxpayer dollars, it would be using the good will of community members."
If the teams follow the guidelines set by the district, Miller said, he will recommend that the school board approve the adoption of the teams.
"If they fully comply with all of those issues, I intend to present this to the board with my recommendation for approval, but still this larger philosophical issue exists out there, and that's what the board has to grapple with," he said.
Miller said district officials have studied the success and failure of privatized athletic programs throughout the state.
"We've done an extensive amount of research in that area, and if we've going to make that happen in Havre, we need to utilize the best those areas have done and do an even better job," he said.
Miller said it will be important to avoid the pitfalls that other school districts have encountered when authorizing private funding for school sports.
"One of the things we've seen is that when programs get started, the folks that have the energy, their children graduate, and then there's no longer a mechanism in place to raise funds and support the program. So it leaves the board of trustees holding the bag, and we don't want to see that happen here," he said.
Another thing the district wants to avoid is using a combination of private and district funds for a sport. That can create confusion about who has management responsibility for the team, Miller said.
"That's just not something we're even going to consider in Havre," he said.
Miller gave the teams a June 25 deadline to raise the funds so that he would have time to prepare proposals for the July 13 school board meeting.
"I have approval from the Montana High School Association that if it is approved in July the activity could be started in the 2004-2005 school year," he said.
Supporters of the girls fast pitch team must generate $65,000 in total pledges, or $25,000 for next school year, and $20,000 for each of the subsequent two years. Boys cross country must raise $10,500 - $3,500 for each of the next three years.
The figures are slightly less than the estimated annual costs district officials presented to the school board during the May 11 meeting.
Fund-raising efforts for both teams are under way. They are not taking donations, but instead seeking pledges that will be collected every August for three years. The collection of the donations is contingent upon the school board voting to adopt the sports.
"I have personally called 24 businesses, and I have not heard a negative comment yet," said Mike Evans, a board member of the Havre Girls Softball Association. "Early in this campaign, things look really good. The people I've talked to are just ecstatic about the possibility of adding this sport. I've had a great response."
A team of 11 people is working to raise money for girls fast pitch, Evans said. All are parents of players or members of the Havre Girls Softball Association, he added.
"The way we look at it, we don't want the kids to have to do any more or any less than the kids who participate in other sanctioned sports," he said.
Evans said girls fast pitch supporters are shooting for $80,000 in pledges, of which half would come from corporate sponsors and half from private donations.
Boys cross country coach Ron Watson said he has approached a number of local businesses about pledging financial support for the next three seasons.
"They're very warm, very receptive. It humbles me - the continued generosity of the Havre business community towards our youth," he said. "We're going to do our darndest to make this happen. We have a full team from our side trying to raise the funds so that these young men will have a chance to run under the auspices of Havre High."
The success of the adoption effort by the boys cross country team is dependent on that of girls fast pitch. Because of federal Title IX gender-equity requirements, the school board can only approve boys cross country if it approves girls fast pitch.
Title IX requires that schools have at least as many athletic programs for girls as for boys. To comply with that provision, in 1986 the school district was forced to either adopt a new girls sports or abandon an existing boys sport. Because there were no proposed additional girls sports at the time, the school board opted to discontinue boys cross country. The team was resurrected in 1999 as a club sport.