No Stone Unturned

April 26, 2015

How do you run a strong high school sports program on a meager budget? This athletic director has uncovered help in a host of out-of-the-way places.

The following article appears in the April/May 2015 issue of Athletic Management.

By Jolinda Miller

Jolinda Miller, CAA, has been Athletic Director at Hughes High School in Cincinnati since 2004. She serves on the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Diversity Committee and was honored with the group’s Ethics and Integrity Award in 2013. She can be reached at: milljol@cps-k12.org.


Most high school athletic directors complain about a lack of funding. Here at Hughes High School, located in an economically disadvantaged area of Cincinnati, we live it on a daily basis.

Our annual budget for all sports is $50,000 and that must cover officials, equipment, and travel. We rarely play games on Saturdays since bus transportation or custodial coverage costs more on weekends. And there is no booster club to fill in the gaps.

Our student population has a very high rate of poverty and 89 percent are on free or reduced lunch. Hughes kids deal with homelessness and hunger, so asking parents to pay for extras or spearhead any type of fundraiser is unrealistic.

Finding enough money to operate our athletic department takes new ideas and creativity. It requires partnering with our neighbors and leaving no stone unturned when searching for funding sources.

Tapping the Community

One of the big ways we support our program is to look towards outside organizations that share our values but have deeper pockets than we do. We’ve developed strong working relationships with the Cincinnati Reds and the University of Cincinnati athletic department.

The Reds Community Fund has graciously donated $2,500 a year to support our baseball and softball programs. The organization has also just opened up the Reds Urban Youth Academy, which allows our athletes to train at their facility and receive tutoring help for free. Our only cost is getting our kids there, which we do by purchasing single-use city bus fare cards, which is cheaper than $150 for a school bus.

Reaching out to our neighbor, the University of Cincinnati, has also been successful. We are currently working on a shared-use facility project that will enable our student-athletes to have a turf field for football and soccer, right across the street from our school, and will give the University its own soccer stadium. This is something that we have only dreamed of in the past and could never afford on our own.

Another huge source of help is a non-profit called Activities Beyond the Classroom, which is like a district-wide booster club for Cincinnati Public Schools. The group captures funding from corporations and foundations and passes that on to those of us who are working to provide students with extra-curricular activities.

We have also tapped into the Children’s Hunger Alliance, an amazing community resource that provides free, hot afterschool meals to all of our athletes. For years, we had struggled to adequately feed our kids who had to stay at school for practices by making hot dogs, spaghetti, ramen noodles—anything that was inexpensive but filling. Feeding 100 kids every day after school adds up quickly. And if we didn’t step in, two bags of chips and a juice would typically be all they would eat between our early lunch period and dinner. Now, we are no longer scrambling for funds or scraping meals together.

Further nutrition support has been gained by applying for and receiving a grant through a Nike pilot program that sends nutritionists to our building twice a week. They created charts for our locker rooms that detail what to eat before, during, and after games. The information provided even explains how to get proper nutrition if you only have two to five dollars to spend. The nutritionists also created hydration charts for our athletes, and our principal now allows students to carry water bottles throughout the day.

Okay to Ask

Along with receiving support from large organizations, we have funded our program by simply asking individuals for help. My pastor once told me, “You have not, because you ask not,” quoting the Bible. Since hearing those words, I ask all the time. It helped me realize there is no shame in telling others your needs.

One group I reached out to was athletic directors at larger high schools in Cincinnati. Since I asked, they always call me to see if we need any equipment before they throw away or donate their extra items. We have received shoulder pads, coolers, football and baseball pants, volleyballs, and wrestling mats.

I was able to get free physicals for our student-athletes this past fall through the help of an athletic trainer. This saves our athletes’ parents $25 to $50 and relieves our coaching staff of one major headache. We normally have to drive some of the kids (and pay for them) to get their physicals.

A conversation with my eye doctor led to free eye exams for student-athletes who couldn’t afford them. Local businesses gave our kids discounts on glasses and contacts because they want to help us make a difference. A good number of student-athletes were struggling with poor vision and they can now see the blackboard—as well as a fastball coming at full speed.

I have also received two rather large donations from friends who recognize the work we are doing here at Hughes and wanted to help the kids. This allowed us to start a junior high athletic program.

These extra funds come from direct requests, but also from sharing my passion about helping student-athletes. I say “yes” every time I’m asked to serve on a committee, give a speech, or make an appearance. The more I share my vision, the more people are willing to help.

Making It Work

Even though we don’t have everything we need, we try to provide the best opportunities to our student-athletes. For example, we can’t afford to travel to tournaments in the same manner as high schools with larger budgets. But we still try to take our teams out of town once every four years.

Instead of a charter bus, we rent cars from a company that offers them to us at a reasonable price. We recently took five vehicles on a boys’ basketball trip to Florida. The cost of the cars, with gas, was around $1,600. A bus or flight would have cost us around $15,000. We try to never limit opportunities—just find a way to do it within our budget.

Some of our student-athletes have never been outside of the city limits, so these trips are a pretty big deal. We include a cultural experience, a nice sit-down meal, and team bonding exercises. Being able to take a kid somewhere very different than what they’re used to and hearing their reaction is amazing. And you haven’t seen anything until you’ve watched a student-athlete experience the ocean for the first time. Even spotting real-live cows in a pasture out the car window can be exciting for our student-athletes.

Like all high school athletic directors, I see the promise in my student-athletes. I deal in schedules, budgets, coaches, and equipment, but I also deal in hope. I tend to focus on and savor every small victory. We can’t save every single kid, but we can try. One of the most rewarding things is that many of my student-athletes have returned home to work and coach at Hughes or other Cincinnati public schools. They have a degree and a job, and are men and women of character and integrity. There’s nothing that keeps me upbeat more than the sight of former student-athletes returning home as adult mentors.

A little over a decade ago, I left what I thought was my dream job coaching women’s basketball at my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati. I felt a higher calling to give back to younger kids, serve a greater purpose, and try to make a difference in people’s lives. Some friends and mentors questioned my decision to leave the university that I loved so much. But I have never looked back.

When you are always looking ahead to something with excitement, it’s hard to feel bad about what you don’t have. We’re constantly looking forward.


 

 

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