The effects of our rocky national economic situation have been rippling through our communities for years. States and towns have been forced to stretch their shrinking budgets and concoct new ways to raise capital. Public education has been especially hard hit since the economic crisis first took center stage in 2008, and it’s the students who risk losing out on valuable experiences, both in and out of the classroom.
In the Tri-Town area, the Old Rochester Regional Athletic Booster Club (ORRABC) has been in high gear organizing a variety of fundraisers during the past few years in an effort to reduce the impact that lack of funding has had on the school’s sports programs. Beginning Thursday, March 1, the ORRABC will be holding its annual Phonathon, which is the organization’s biggest fundraising event of the academic year.
According to Shaun Walsh, president of the ORRABC, student athletes will call members of the Tri-Town community to solicit donations. Since 2004, the boosters have raised about $300,000 for the school sports teams, and the Phonathon has brought in over $20,000 each year for the last two years.
“A couple of years ago, parts of the sports budget were slashed up to 75 percent,” said Mr. Walsh. “In the wake of all the budget cuts, we are committed to doing our best to fill those holes and to increase overall funding to try to balance with those cuts.”
Parents of student athletes must pay a $225 fee for each season their child participates in a sport, with a $600 cap if they have multiple children involved in multiple sports. Two years ago, those fees were $150 per season, with a cap of $550. These fees, however, only cover the costs of team transportation and the pay of coaches and game officials.
“We know budgets won’t increase, but we also don’t want to squeeze the parents for any more money,” said Mr. Walsh.
The ORRABC is responsible for many fundraisers throughout the year. They do shorter-term seasonal events that raise anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, and the individual teams also host their own fundraisers, which can collect anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000. In the past, the money raised by the ORRABC has gone to help pay for everything from new uniforms to replacing the old elliptical machines in the school’s weight room.
“These fundraisers are a great way to do it because we can help take the pressure off the athletic department budget,” said Aimee Fox, secretary to the Athletic Director and board member of the ORRABC.
Ms. Fox and Mr. Walsh have been involved with the boosters for the last five years. While their primary function is to help raise money for the teams, she said the activities of the boosters also help promote a tighter community.
“It’s a great way for parents of kids involved in different sports to get to know one another,” Fox said. “Getting involved with the ORRABC is also a great way to help advance a child’s education from the background. We always need volunteers and it’s a great way for parents to help out.”
Ryann Monteiro, a senior captain of the track team, has participated in the Phonathon each of her four years of high school. The two-time South Coast Conference All-Star said it’s her favorite fundraiser of the whole year.
“It’s a great way for teams to come together,” said Ms. Monteiro. “We’re all really close. My coaches are great and they really set the tone for the whole program.”
The benefits of participating in school sports extend well beyond the physical for these students.
“A lot of these kids find a circle of friends that can last forever. The fact that you have to work so hard in high school athletics is huge for the kids,” said Mr. Walsh. “Over time, these programs can help promote personal growth and maturity in the athletes, which gives them the tools to better function outside of their small high school community.”
“To see the overall maturity and personality changes – the way they bring younger kids under their wing- will benefit these students later on in life,” said Ms. Fox.
The boosters not only invest in student-athletes while they attend Old Rochester Regional. Each year, the ORRABC offers about $6,000 in college scholarships for outstanding performance both on and off the field. That money comes directly from the Phonathon.
“It gives us a lot of pride as booster club members to know we may have had a small part of their success in college,” Mr. Walsh said.
Ms. Monteiro, who plans on attending the University of Rhode Island in the fall and participating on their track team, does not take for granted the hard work of the ORRABC. “Without the boosters, this would be a completely different program. We get so much support from them,” Ms. Monteiro said.
Ms. Monteiro will join nearly 200 fellow athletes, making calls, stuffing envelopes, and building stronger relationships with her teammates. The Phonathon will be placing calls between 6:30 and 8:30 pm on the evenings of March 1, 5-7, 12-13, and 15-16.
By Eric Tripoli