Weather problems rain on school sports budget plan

Weather problems rain on school sports budget plan

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Weather problems rain on school sports budget plan

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PALM BAY

An announcement over the public address system minutes before kickoff at Heritage High on Monday asked for a volunteer from the crowd to take the third spot on the “chain gang” keeping track of downs and distance along the sideline.

On Saturday at Space Coast, game administrators called back and forth over walkie-talkies, trying to find the American flag to run up the pole behind the end zone so the anthem could be played.

When lightning strikes during Friday night high school football games, everything is scrambled, and there is no consensus solution in Brevard County. Perhaps nothing is hit harder than budgets, where a good night of ticket sales generates thousands of dollars and a rescheduled game can double expenses.

Consider what goes into a high school football game beyond even the week-long preparation by players and coaches. There are officials, concessions, bands and cheerleaders, bus drivers and security.

Last Friday, only one of eight games scheduled in Brevard County went final that night. It was Merritt Island Christian at home against Boca Raton Christian, and it was called before halftime. Of seven other games in the county, one was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon, three for Monday night and two have not been rescheduled. By coincidence, both Rockledge and St. Cloud had Oct. 11 open, and the teams will try again then.

Fran Siljestrom has been the swimming and diving coach for Cocoa Beach for years, but adding the job of athletic director this year has opened her eyes to issues — including the overall athletic budget — she had never faced to the same degree.

“Being a Friday night, (football is) a good, wholesome activity for a family to do. You go watch a game, buy some hot dogs,” she said. “It gets canceled or it gets postponed and gets moved to Monday, now there are other priorities.”

The Minutemen had their game at Viera postponed before kickoff and rescheduled for Monday, meaning two nights of rentals for two Cocoa Beach team buses and two nights of game expenses for the home team.

“It snowballs,” Siljestrom said. “It really does.”

Bus costs vary significantly because of the length of the county. Titusville athletic director Jason Berley said a recent one-bus trip to Eau Gallie by the volleyball team cost $225. To take the football team on two buses to Heritage was in the range of $400.

The home team, on the other hand, loses potential income. When the Terriers had to move two home games to Monday last September, game revenue dropped because Friday night crowds are the biggest.

“I can tell you right now it hurt us last year,” Berley said, recalling that two consecutive years of Week 2 games against Heritage were delayed by lightning. “That hurts your gate, and then we had the same thing again with Merritt Island (in 2011). It hurts.”

Melbourne band director Josh Sall has felt the hit, too. His band requires four buses, a rented 26-foot moving truck for equipment and a trailer pulled by parents who are then reimbursed for gas. If his group goes to a road game that is postponed, that money is wasted.

“If it’s an away game, I’m not going to take the students back, probably,” he said.

While that can be a hit to expenses, the loss of a home game is a hit to revenue. At home games, the Melbourne band sells concessions. Sall said the season income from concessions can be in the range of $8,000.

“The concessions can be a major fundraiser for us,” he said. “At my last school, we took a big hit (from losing a game). We lost $1,500.”

Astronaut lost its homecoming game against Jacksonville Episcopal and what would have been a good revenue night from tickets and concessions.

“For me, that (homecoming) game was huge,” said War Eagles athletic director Cheryl Shivel. “We’re trying to make a good gate. We’re not going to reschedule it, because (Episcopal of Jacksonville) can’t come back down here.”

The weather is unpredictable, but late summer has a history of canceled August practices and postponed September games. Bob Wimmer of the National Weather Service in Melbourne said many factors are involved, from seabreezes to air pressure, but Space Coast residents know thunderstorms are typical on warm days.

“It will generally be in the mid-to-late afternoon, lingering to maybe 8 o’clock,” Wimmer said. “In September, we’re still in a summer-type pattern.”

However, the idea of moving games to earlier in the day draws no consensus.

“We’re left with just about no options,” Heritage athletic director Greg McGrew said. “If you play at 4 o’clock (on Friday), you’re not going to make the money. Saturday afternoon, things are going on. I guess the best solution is to build a dome somewhere.”

Sall said bands usually have Saturday afternoon activities, but he was not opposed to 4 p.m. Friday games.

That, however, would leave most potential ticket-buyers still at work.

“I can tell you, I’ve been a part of that twice. That is a colossal failure,” said Cocoa Beach coach Tony Piccalo, who recalled 1990 games when Friday afternoon games were played during an encephalitis scare. “It was miserable. There was nobody there. There was no Friday night enthusiasm.”

Despite the competition from college football games on television, Piccalo preferred 7 p.m. Saturday games to Friday afternoon or Monday evening, but his first choice was to stick with Friday night, even through delays.

“Wait it out. That’s the way I feel,” he said. “If it’s a district game, you have to play it.”

Friday is the general preference for those counting the money as well. McGrew, who was the athletic director at Bayside prior to the opening of Heritage, is starting to see the same kind of revenue he saw with the Bears. In an age when the county makes high school sports programs fund themselves through game revenues and other fundraisers, every Friday night lost has impact.

He estimated good nights can bring in from $4,000 to $7,000, but a game between Palm Bay and Bayside, for example, can generate $10,000 in a season when both teams are winning.

“Football is going to be the sport that carries all the other sports through the year,” McGrew said. “If you don’t make the money in football, you’re going to have a tough time.”

Today’s games

Today’s games

* Holy Trinity at Master’s Academy-Vero, 4 p.m.

* Montverde at Melbourne CC, 7

* Merritt Island at East Ridge, 7

* Victory Christian at Florida Air, 7

* Palm Bay at Kissimmee Osceola, 7:30

* Astronaut at Bayside, 7:30

* Melbourne at Rockledge, 7:30

* Viera at Satellite, 7:30

* Space Coast at Cocoa Beach, 7:30

* University at Cocoa, 7:30

* Harmony at Heritage, 7:30

* Martin County at Eau Gallie, 7:30

* Merritt Island Christian at Landmark Christian, 7:30

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