VIDEO: High school athletics experiencing budget obstacles

Baseball Bat
Every baseball team needs a bat, but some high school coaches must pay out-of-pocket money for their team's equipment.

Obstacles from Chicago’s budget deficit are forcing many coaches to spend their own money or suffer the consequences.

By Connor Morgan

Coaching high school sports in Chicago can be an expensive job. Just ask Bill Curry, Westinghouse College Prep’s boys’  basketball coach.

Curry has only been the varsity coach for two years but has seen the cost of his labor add up, mainly in the form of paying for food and summer league fees for his student-athletes.

“You do whatever you can, whatever you can get your hands on,” Curry said. “Often times, a coach looks at it and says, ‘That was $35’ or ‘That was $89.’ And you can try to turn it into the school, but the school doesn’t have the money either.”

The tight budgets for Chicago Public Schools are proving problematic for athletic programs, especially for coaches who regularly must decide whether to spend their own money or do without certain necessities, including proper safety equipment for student-athletes, such as baseball helmets and catcher’s gear.

Amundsen baseball coach Francisco Caballero said in his four years as varsity coach, he has spent between $1,000 and $1,500 of his own money each year to pay for expenses that weren’t covered by the sport’s athletic budget.

“This year, I decided to do a DonorsChoose program and received $2,000,” Caballero said. “I was able to buy brand new catcher’s equipment, baseballs, helmets. This was the first year I haven’t had to take money out of my pocket.”

Many long-time faculty members, including Roosevelt athletic director Lorin Volberding, said he remembered a time when budget concerns weren’t so dire.

“There was a time in my earlier years [17 years ago], when the (Department of) Sports Administration (and Facilities, a CPS athletics governing body) had supplied us with money,” Volberding said. “Now they don’t supply it. Money that comes from the state is used for instructional (purposes), not for miscellaneous, which is what athletics is under.

“There’s no such thing as miscellaneous funds for athletics. Because the district is so huge, there is not enough money to distribute to all the teams.”

Athletics isn’t the only program suffering as a result of the deficit and subsequent budget cuts. Amundsen principal Anna Pavichevich said the entire school is having to prioritize.

“CPS is facing severe budget constraints, forcing administrators to make difficult decisions,” Pavichevich said. “The primary goal is to keep it as close to the students as possible.”

Volberding said the recent thinning of the sports administration department, which he said is down from 36 staff members to six due to budget cuts, is causing a “trickle down” that puts high school athletic departments in precarious positions.

However, Volberding said if his athletes want customized equipment, they are responsible for the costs.

“If a kid wants a name on the jersey, obviously they’re paying for it,” Volberding said. “I don’t believe in having my coaches pay for that kind of stuff.”

Lauren Huffman, CPS deputy press secretary, declined to comment for this story. The  Department of Sports Administration and Facilities did not return calls.

Raymond Denten, Roosevelt’s head baseball coach, said the budgets aren’t the biggest obstacle. He said the fundraising regulations CPS imposes are “absurd.”

“To fundraise, it’s impossible,” Denten said. “You can’t sell anything at school during school hours. I don’t know what they expect us to do.

“You can’t even fundraise in your own cafeteria. CPS has a bunch of ridiculous stipulations. How do you expect us to raise any money when we can’t even sell stuff at lunch?”

Curry expressed similar sentiments regarding fundraising restrictions.

“Fundraising is a nightmare,” Curry said. “They have all these different restrictions. You can’t even start fundraising on school grounds until 45 minutes after the final bell rings.

“But the students are forced out of the school well before that. So what, you think they’re going to wait across the street for 30 minutes just to buy candy from us? No, they’ll just go down to the corner store, grab some snacks and hop on the bus.”

All of the budget constraints and fundraising obstacles have resulted in frustration for many dedicated coaches.

“This is the norm for coaches,” Curry said. “When you add up the wear and tear on your car, the food that you buy, the entry fees that you fork over, you’re forking over a lot of your own personal cash.

“And you can say to keep the program running, but it’s actually to keep the relationships growing with your players and to help them be safe and help them continue to develop.”

Photo at top: Every baseball team needs a bat, but some high school coaches must pay out-of-pocket money for their team’s equipment. (Connor Morgan/Medill)