Recession squeezes Southland high school sports

Coaching stipends are being slashed. Vice principals are being forced to double as athletic directors. Trainers' salaries are being eliminated.

And that's just in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District.

The sagging economy is pummeling high school athletic departments throughout Southern California, with nearly every school being hit in some way.

"It's a bad deal for everybody," said Thom Simmons, a spokesman for the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section, the governing athletic body for 571 local schools. "When tax revenue is down, the level of services has to go down. And any time you have to cut services, whether it's for drama, band or athletics, it's just a bad deal."

Simmons described the cuts as cyclical and recalled similar crises in 1978, when the passage of Proposition 13 severely curtailed the amount of real estate taxes collected in the state, and during a downturn in the housing market in the early 1990s.

The 104 schools in the cash-strapped Los Angeles City Section are being pinched particularly hard this time around.

Among the changes being made for the 2009-10 athletic year, junior varsity playoffs are being eliminated; baseball and softball teams must shave five games off their league schedules to reduce travel costs; and 75 fewer buses will be provided for wrestling tournaments.

Also, freshman-sophomore basketball schedules are being moved to the winter to consolidate travel expenses, and efforts will be made to combine teams from a single school going to the same destination to use fewer buses.

The measures are expected to save $448,000, City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege said -- and that might not be enough. Officials are discussing the possible implementation of a transportation fee for athletes in 2010-11.

"For the current year, we were able to make the necessary reductions," Fiege said. "However, we also realize that more cuts may be made next year."

Not all of the news is bad when it comes to the effect of a slumping economy on high school sports.

Attendance was up "across the board" last year at Southern Section playoff events, Simmons said, primarily because high school sports provided an inexpensive entertainment option for budget-conscious families. As a result, some athletic departments received a small financial bonus through their profit-sharing arrangement with the section.

Parents also have stepped up to fund new athletic programs such as lacrosse, a sport that is booming amid the recession.

According to statistics released by the CIF, participation in boys' and girls' lacrosse was up 45% from two years ago.

"Usually the last sport to be added is the first to get cut," Simmons said. "But because parents have stepped forward and are funding these sports, they've found a way to keep them."


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