The loss of spectators at school sports events due to COVID capacity limits is taking a financial toll on middle and high school athletic programs.
Indoor sports like basketball and volleyball have been limited to 25 spectators, while football is capped at 100. To compensate for the loss of ticket sales, the Haywood County school board has approved $120,000 in emergency funding to cover sports-related costs for the three middle schools and two high schools.
“We have looked extensively at making our middle and high school athletic programs solvent,” explained Associate Superintendent Trevor Putnam. “They have incurred real expenses — real costs that are going to occur whether we sell a ticket or not.”
Those costs include referees, bus drivers and gas for away games, helmet and pad reconditioning and stand-by ambulances for football games. Putnam walked the school board through the line-item costs for each school, based on budgets provided the school athletic directors and coaches.
“This doesn’t encompass everything, but they feel like it will keep them afloat,” Putnam said.
While the emergency funding will tide sports over for now, there’s another financial hole looming down the road due to the loss of revenue from the football season — most notably the big rivalry game between Pisgah and Tuscola. The schools trade-off who hosts the county clash each year, typically bringing in as much as $100,000 which in turn subsidizes athletics for the host school for the next two years.
“It puts them on their feet for two years and Pisgah is going to miss that this year,” Putnam said.
The school board expressed support for making the schools whole, but the extent of that number won’t be known until the conclusion of the football season.
“How much will the schools be able to recover from the limited ticket sales they are getting?” asked School Board Member Jim Francis.
“It is really a drop in the bucket,” Putnam replied. “We are just trying to keep them from going too far into the hole.”
The 50-50 raffle conducted by the host school at the rivalry game can alone net $25,000. While Pisgah will be holding a virtual 50-50 raffle, “We don’t know what that will look like in the COVID-era,” Putnam said.
The loss of concession sales will also be a blow, some of which goes to support the marching bands.
“There’s a lot of funds being missed all the way around,” said School Board Member David Burnette. “As you said, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the loss of not being able to run concessions and fill these stadiums and gyms up.”
There have also been additional expenses due to COVID that don’t exist in a normal year, like having to take an extra bus to away games in some cases to adhere to social distancing.
Superintendent Bill Nolte agreed it doesn’t cover everything the teams need, like routine equipment and uniform purchases, which are still being covered by booster clubs, donations and fundraisers. But the $120,000 in emergency funding will fill the biggest void for now.
“These are the big ticket items,” Nolte said. “We are trying to be as reasonably supportive as we can be without crippling our budget.”