Each year the Miami-Dade County school district contributes $17,000 plus transportation costs to each school's athletic department. That's not nearly enough. "Every school needs $65,000 to $75,000 to run its athletic program, and that's no frills," says Cheryl Golden, the former AD at Southwest Miami High and now an administrator for the district. "There's a big financial crunch for all sports, but football is killing people because of the expense of the equipment. To outfit a kid, you're looking at spending $300, and then you've got $69 more for insurance."
As a result, athletic directors are trying desperately to stretch a nonelastic money supply. This year, for the first time, Coral Park's Balazs scheduled three afternoon games, including the homecoming game, to save on lighting and security costs. Earlier this season he scheduled a game against defending state champion Carol City on Miami's North Side, the better to attract Carol City's supporters and thus earn a bigger paycheck. The scheme didn't work. After expenses, Coral Park lost $193 on the game. "If we have a couple of games where we lose money, our budget goes down the toilet," says Balazs, which helps explain why his office resembles a sale rack at JC Penney's. Dozens of Coral Park T-shirts are piled next to his desk, waiting to be sold. Too bad he doesn't have a booster club to help him out.
Fund-raising is an innocuous-sounding word that can turn ADs and football coaches into shrieking Willy Lomans. Dale Hardy, the coach at Coral Gables, helps oversee all kinds of moneymaking ventures for his team: doughnut sales, garage sales, car washes, lift-a-thons (in which players gather pledges according to how much iron they can pump), Pizza Hut coupon sales and work at the Doral golf and Lipton tennis tournaments. When Hardy coached at Homestead (Fla.) High, he even staged pro wrestling extravaganzas to help pay the bills. "Coaches have to prostitute themselves so much that it's hard to find time to coach," he says. "I don't want to be the chief fund-raiser, but I have to be. It takes away from our preparation in the classroom and on the practice field." To improve attendance, Hardy thinks Gables should have Burger King and McDonald's set up booths at games. "That's where all the kids are, anyway," he says. "We don't care if they watch. We just want their money."
Hardy may not like it, but he's doing exactly what the NFL wants every high school coach to do if his program is low on cash. "The coach is the central figure," says Gene Washington. "He has to be dynamic enough to know how to do fund-raisers." But what about the $100 million in NFL largesse over the next eight years for youth and high school football? "If they've got all this money to put into football, why aren't they writing us grants?" asks Golden.
Simple, replies Washington. "It's like feeding people fish or teaching them how to fish," he says. "We don't have enough money to feed them the fish." He pulls out a calculator. "To have a [financial] impact on a high school football program, you need at least $5,000 per year. If you multiply the 14,000 schools playing football by $5,000, that's $70 million. But that's only one year. Our $100 million has to last eight years. It's a drop in the bucket."
According to Washington the NFL hasn't decided how to use all the money from the Youth Football Fund. It has awarded grants to seven nonprofit organizations (including the Police Athletic League, Pop Warner and the YMCA) to support youth football. It has given no money directly to high schools, though one idea that has been kicked around, Washington says, is to provide stipends to former NFL players who are willing to coach high school football.
Golden, for her part, would prefer old-fashioned greenbacks to old Dolphins running backs. It's not uncommon, she admits, for her and other Miami-Dade administrators to pay for football players' shoes and insurance out of their own pockets. "My greatest fear in life is that in 10 years, we won't have athletics in Miami because mere won't be enough money," she says. "Athletics is the Number 1 dropout-prevention program in this country. If we lose sports because of a lack of community participation, we're going to lose kids."
At Hinsdale (N.Y.) central school on a fall afternoon, the gridiron is buzzing with activity. The boys' soccer team is practicing on one side of the field, the girls' team on the other. They're working on corner kicks and set plays and firing shots at their respective goals, which have been moved in front of die football goalposts. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, but there's something missing from this sporting tableau: varsity football. This September, for die first time in 35 years, Hinsdale couldn't come up with die 18 players required by state law to field a team.
Football has a storied past in Hinsdale, a town of 2,000 just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border in western New York. The Bobcats were 15-4 over the past two years, and they hadn't had a losing season since 1983. As recently as '89 and '90 they had spotless 10-0 records and won die New York Section 6 Class D championships. Why, back in 1975, a Hinsdale boy named Dave Conklin set what was then the New York State single-season rushing record. "We've had a great football tradition here," says Bill Bathurst, Hinsdale's athletic director. "In the '70s and early '80s we'd have as many as 45 kids out, and we've always had [a total of] 125 to 150 kids in the high school grades."
Fan support never slackened. Hinsdale routinely drew 400 people to its games last year. When die Bobcats hosted archrival Ellicottville in die 1990 state playoffs, more than 3,000 roaring fans overflowed die bleachers and stood three and four deep on die sidelines. "It was die largest crowd I've ever seen," says Rod Rohl, who retired as Hinsdale's coach in '91 after 28 seasons. "People had to park at die fire hall a mile away and walk all die way here."