District budget cuts affecting Natchez High School footballPublished 12:01am Sunday, September 22, 2013
NATCHEZ — Natchez High School assistant football coach Ivan Evans began doing field maintenance this season at Tom F. Williams Memorial Stadium out of the goodness of his heart.
Prior to this school year, Evans and other school district staffers received a collective stipend of $6,775 for maintaining the field at NHS’s home stadium.
But with recent cuts to the athletic budget the stipend is gone along with other things in the athletics department budget, including 25 percent of the coaches’ salaries from last year.
In July, Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill and the school board approved $42,832 in budget cuts to athletics for the 2013-14 school year. Hill said the district’s funding has decreased over the past decade because of lower student enrollment.
“For the last eight to nine years, the district funding has decreased every year, but expenses did not decrease along with the revenue,” Hill said.
Field maintenance work includes fertilizing the field, cutting the grass, putting down sand to fill the holes, sprinkler maintenance and painting the field for games, Evans said. The work takes approximately four hours a week.
“The kids (keep us coming out here),” Evans said. “The kids want to play on a good field. They want to have a little pride about what they do, and it’s for them. We don’t want them to play on a raggedy-looking field.”
Though Hill said he thinks athletics — and all extra-curricular activities — have an important role in the educational experience, he said the financial situation in the district left him no choice but to make across-the-board cuts.
“Athletics wasn’t impacted any more than any other departments, because we made cuts in every department in the district,” Hill said. “Athletics wasn’t singled out.”
Cuts to athletics included eliminating coaching vacancies, getting rid of stipends for field maintenance and doing away with funding athletic banquets and football lettermen jackets, along with coaches taking a 25-percent pay cut. A middle school dance team was eliminated entirely. Eight open coaching vacancies were eliminated from the budget: three assistant football coaches, two assistant track coaches, an assistant baseball coach, an assistant middle school cheerleader coach and an assistant soccer coach.
NHS head football coach Lance Reed said he was upset to see less money in the athletic budget because he feels athletic participation contributes to higher performance in the classroom.
“I’m a person who was raised around athletics, and my whole life has been dedicated to that concept, so to cut it is totally against my whole train of thought when it comes to education,” Reed said.
All students should be involved in some type of extracurricular activity, Reed said, because it would drive test scores and help improve behavioral issues and attendance.
“I don’t think the formula to get things better is by taking away, but when it comes to dollars, I don’t know if there are any other choices,” Reed said. “I can’t say that there are, but if there were other options, I would definitely not cut extracurriculars.”
In recent years, Reed said the team’s budget has gradually decreased annually and is now approximately $37,000. Though the team has enough equipment to play football, Reed said things such as shoulder pads ideally should be replaced annually, and with such a small budget, that can’t happen this year.
“You’re not able to maintain quality equipment at all times,” Reed said. “Sometimes you have to make do with what you have. I’ll go on record and say our shoulder pads are probably some of the worst around. Purchasing of new helmets or shoulder pads is something we weren’t able to do this year.”
Additionally, practice equipment such as sleds, which players use to practice hitting, are unable to be repaired because of a lack of funds. They sit unused on the far side of the team’s practice field.
“It would be nice to have a new sled, we just can’t afford it right now,” Reed said. “There’s no way we could go buy one.”
Ultimately, Reed said equipment already on hand will allow the team to practice and play this year, but he said he worries for the future.
“The brunt of these cuts didn’t hit us immediately, but two to three years down the line, it’s definitely going to hit the program,” Reed said.
Superintendent Hill said despite the cuts he would never allow player safety to be sacrificed.
“We reduced the athletic budget,” Hill said. “We didn’t decide we weren’t going to buy equipment, we just cut the amount of money that was available. Priority was given to those things that will keep our students safe and active.”
Compared to a decade ago, when Reed first arrived to coach at NHS, the athletic budget has been cut by approximately $20,000 per year, Reed said. In addition to operating with a smaller budget, Reed said it was difficult finding out all the coaches would take a 25-percent pay cut.
“We found out right before the season started, which is a little disheartening when you have guys that work hard and spend a lot of time at their craft,” Reed said. “But it hasn’t affected our work ethic — if anything, it’s brought our staff together.”
The NHS Touchdown Club, which helps raise money for athletics, is trying to help make up for lost funding by doing fundraisers such as T-shirt sales, raffle tickets, souvenir booklets, membership drives, a summer carwash and varsity and junior varsity concession profits.
Touchdown Club member Angela James said the club is particularly focused on making sure the athletes have a banquet in the winter and the senior football players have lettermen jackets.
“I would hate to see the banquet not happen, especially with the kids that have been there a number of years, to not have it and lettermen jackets is a slap in the face,” James said.
“They play because they love football and want to get jackets, and that’s what really upsets me.”
NHS senior Jesse Dorsey said he’s not fond of the decision to cut funding for lettermen jackets from the budget.
“To me it’s kind of bad for the football players who worked hard for four years who won’t be able to get a letterman jacket,” Dorsey said. “I’m kind of upset about it, but there’s nothing really the football players could do about it.”
Fellow senior Autry Clayton said he looks forward to the team having a banquet each year. He’s not as concerned about the letterman jacket, but he said he would like one if possible.
“(The jacket) doesn’t really define who you are as players, but it would be nice to have something that shows we put in the time and effort, especially when every generation before us has put so much pride in it,” Clayton said.
Reed said he and the coaches are committed to having an athletic banquet, but he was not sure whether or not the players would end up being able to receive free lettermen jackets. Hill said if players asked him about why the school board wasn’t paying for jackets, he would simply tell the truth.
“I’d just put the facts out there: It was because of budgeting reasons,” Hill said. “I will say, Natchez has been fortunate to be able to buy lettermen jackets in the past, but in most schools that’s not the case. That’s an expense that schools usually don’t take on. Now we’re at this point, and that’s one of the difficult decisions that need to be made.”