By DAVID GRAVELY
My house is still standing, my wife and dog still love me, and I’ve still yet to have someone tell me face to face that I’m wrong. I guess that means I should keep going.
It only takes a few minutes to go to our website (www.southwesttimes.com) and click on the stories from the past two weeks and see that our sports programs are a hot topic. People are passionate about sports in our county, and people realize what those sports teams mean to our community.
Some have commented that they feel we are placing too much emphasis on sports and not enough on grades. Not only is that not the case, but a quick look through some of our recent stories proves that we support both. Success on the athletic field is a great thing, but for most athletes that will only take you so far when you get to the college ranks. That athletic ability just be coupled with a dedication in the classroom, and our stories have always made a point of highlighting that fact. But this is the sports section, and with that said we will focus primarily on the sports stories in our county.
Not only are those sports programs a way to keep young people active, but they are social events. We may not see our neighbors or friends all week, but you can rest assured that on Friday night in August through December (if you’re lucky), you’ll find them at a Cougar football game. Winter and spring sports offer plenty of chances to get out of the house as well.
The past few weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out why the Cougars, Dukes, Orioles, and our many recreation league teams are having problems with winning. Some have ask why winning is so important, and aside from the fact that winning is good and losing is bad, winning can also bring about other “good” things to our county.
I’m going to do this in the most simple way I can….math. The numbers are what can’t be disputed, so let’s focus on those.
If Pulaski County is winning, more fans will come to the games. If more fans come to the games, then more tickets are sold. More tickets sold equal more money for the school, which means more money available for the kids.
Without question, football has the largest crowds of any sport at PCHS, and it is one of the few sports (if not the only sport) that actually generates income for the school system. It would be great if we could have the same support for other sports, but for now football is the only one that generates that type of fan base. Let’s remember back to that great season in 2008 when Pulaski finished a perfect 10-0 regular season, won a River Ridge District and Region 4 title with wins over Salem, and came up just short of a State Championship game appearance.
The attendance that season was big. The stands were always full, and the banks were crowded. The game ten battle with Salem was estimated to have well over 12,000 fans in attendance. The other games weren’t that crowded, but they were still big events.
Now just for giggles, let’s say that the average attendance that season at a Pulaski County home football game was 5,000 fans. At $6 per ticket, that equals $30,000 in ticket sales per home game, with five regular season home games on the schedule. That would mean that if you had 5,000 fans in the stands for those home games, then your football team generated $150,000 in ticket sales.
As I understand it, the money from ticket sales at all regular season Cougar home games goes to the general athletic fund, which is then used to fund all of the sports programs at the school. That applies to all sports, not just football. Now we’re not talking about money from concessions, t-shirt sales, 50-50 raffles, or any other booster activities at the games, we’re talking just ticket sales.
Now, let’s also take a look at the past two seasons attendance at Cougar football games. To say the least, the numbers are way down from those great 2008 figures. Pulaski County has hit some tough times, and when you add up the fact that the Cougars haven’t been getting the wins and the problems around the county with the economy, you get a crowd that goes from 5,000 fans to a much lower number. At some games, I have been surprised if there were 1,500 fans in the stands.
Back to the math we go. At $6 per ticket, that equals $9,000 per game instead of $30,000. In case you didn’t do it in your head, that’s a $21,000 per game difference. I would say that an optimistic average for tickets sold the past two seasons would be in the neighborhood of 2,000 per game if we’re lucky. That equals $60,000 of income generated by football in a year instead of that $150,000. That is a difference of $90,000.
Now you more than likely sitting there asking yourself “why in the world would a football team need $150,000???”
First of all, that money is NOT used just for football. It’s used for all sports. On top of that, you also have some expenses that come out of that money. You’ve got officials to pay. You’ve got to pay for the lights to come on. You’ve got to pay for security and ticket takers to work the games. You have to pay for the gas, bus, and driver for those five aways games that football plays. You’ve also got those home and away games for the junior varsity football team. You’ve got to pay for the same for the cheerleaders and the band to go to those away games. AFTER you take care of all of those expenses for football season, then you also get to pay for them for volleyball and golf. You’ve got to pay those officials, lights, gas, drivers, and other expenses for boys and girls basketball, wrestling, indoor track, competition cheer, spring track and field, the swim team, boys soccer, girls soccer, baseball, softball, boys tennis, girls tennis, and any other sport offered at PCHS.
Then you get to give some of that money to the teams. Football will need a bunch of that money, as they have the most equipment that has to be either bought new or reconditioned each year. Helmets and shoulder pads aren’t cheap, and between the JV and varsity football team you’re talking somewhere between 70-100 athletes. Soccer needs soccer balls. Baseball needs a constant supply of baseballs and other equipment, just like softball. Basketball will need a few new basketballs each season for the girls and boys teams. The volleyball team will need to get new nets and volleyballs. Every team that takes the field as a representative of Pulaski County High School will need something.
Now with all that money spent, what’s left to buy? Unfortunately there’s a lot. Parents and booster clubs have, historically, done well to provide for Pulaski County athletes when it came to the “nice things”, because our school usually can’t. Our athletes normally take the field, good or bad, in very nice looking uniforms. When the Cougar soccer team gets on the bus for an away game, they do so with matching warm-up suits, matching backpacks, and coaches who are dressed uniformly. Baseball, softball, and many other teams have new uniforms every few years. Those nice things are normally bought with money raised by booster clubs or donated by parents, sometimes a local business.
So in the end, it only makes sense to do whatever we can to help get our sports programs back on track. Improving our facilities should one of the easiest choices we make. Some of those have already started, as the steps inside Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium have been widened and handrails are being added. The Lady Cougar softball field lost their visitors dugout this past winter, and new and improved ones have now been built for the home and away teams. We need our track to be widened to regulation size and rubberized for the protection of those that use it. Lights need to be added to the baseball and softball field so that they can play late games when needed, and the bleachers at the softball field need improvements. Our tennis courts need resurfaced as soon as possible, and if we’re not going to turf the playing surface of Joel Hicks Field, then we need to build a separate and regulation size soccer field for the soccer teams. On top of all that, we need to fix our middle school sports problems, and that means a new school and more middle school sports teams feeding the high school.
In other words, we need to find a way to win, and we need to keep doing it. Yes, it needs to start with football each year, and it needs to continue on through the winter and spring sports. Fan attendance at all of those sports has dropped as well, which means that the sports that were only selling a few tickets to start with are now selling even less.
A successful school sports program will pay for itself over time, and those financial benefits can and do also spill over to the community. More fans at a game means more cars on our roads and more gas sold. It means more shopping dollars spent in Pulaski County as visiting fans come in for games. It means more money for local restaurants after the games as those hungry fans head home. Those extra dollars generated in our county could be the difference between getting a new recreation/wellness center or not getting it.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. A winning program can help bring economic stimulation, growth, healthier kids, more money for our schools, and a healthy dose of COUGAR PRIDE to Pulaski County.