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The booster club advantage

Maybe it’s because my high school didn’t have any modern athletic facilities while I was there – our “home games” for baseball, basketball, and football were all played someplace else, and all these years later I still have no idea where that was – but I’ve never been the least bit enamored with high school sports. So while I can’t say I’m surprised that there is such a thing as a booster club for high school sports teams, one whose main function is fundraising, I am a bit surprised at just how much funds some of these groups are able to attract.

Financial data reviewed by the Chronicle in response to a Freedom of Information Act request shows booster clubs continue to further the financial divide between urban and suburban high schools.

Katy High School, which budgeted $244,065 for athletics in 2006-07, received an additional $372,444 from its booster club. The club serves all Katy High School sports.

The athletic department at Lamar received $285,345 from its booster club in the same period, while Clements received $181,614.

However, 19 of 22 Houston Independent School District high schools (Kashmere was unavailable) either don’t have athletic booster clubs or have clubs that provided less than $25,000 in support. Four of the six clubs in the Katy ISD earned more than $50,000, while eight of the 10 in Fort Bend ISD brought in more than $32,000.

“We aren’t suffering to support our athletic programs right now, but we are definitely always in need,” Furr football coach Cornell Gray said.

[…]

For the Katy booster club, the football game program is the biggest moneymaker. The club earns most of its money from the sale of ads in the program and the sales of programs at games.

“We are in a fortunate situation where everyone wants to be a part of Katy football, so every business will buy an ad and every parent and fan will buy a program,” Katy booster club co-president Ken Sumrall said. “Not every school is going to be in that situation.”

Take Wheatley, for example. While the Wildcats also feature a rich tradition, they do not have the resources of Katy. With more large corporations inside Houston proper, Wheatley lacks some of the support Katy gets from mom-and-pop businesses. As a result, Wheatley, with a basketball program that has made 25 state-tournament appearances, has a booster club that earned less than $25,000.

“We aren’t lacking success in our athletic programs — look at track and baseball and softball right now,” Wade said. “We aren’t lacking the tradition. It’s just the financial support.”

Some booster clubs don’t need the support of local businesses. Instead, they count on benefactors. The Lamar High School athletic booster club made more than $284,000 of its $285,345 in total revenue from direct donations and contributions — including alumni and parents — to the school.

I don’t know what, if anything, could or should be done about this. It strikes me as inherently unfair, but I can’t think of any justifiable reason to put limits on donations to such clubs. The best answer would be to ensure that all schools have a sufficient level of funding to cover all the basic needs with enough extra to allow for variety and experimentation, but we all know what the odds are of that right now. So read this as an educational experience, and marvel at how well the Wheatleys can do with so much less than some of their peers.

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