Bearcat Boosters has been doing its part to help fund all sports at Paso Robles High for years.
Now, another organization, the Bearcat Gridiron Club, is chipping in specifically for football.
The Gridiron Club raised about $24,000 at a crab feed and auction last month and is looking to bring in more to ensure that the school’s football program can become “self-sufficient” in coming years, club secretary Jennifer Railsback said.
As California has cut tens of billions of dollars from its education budget over the past few years, administrators throughout the state feeling the trickle-down effect have struggled to maintain extracurricular allowances, thus placing immensely greater burdens on parents, community members and booster clubs to make up the difference.
The Bearcats’ sports programs were hit particularly hard, as transportation funding throughout the district was cut by more than 60 percent amid the worst round of cuts announced a year-and-a-half ago, while coaching stipends were also eliminated.
The situation left coaches questioning the long-term sustainability of athletics at the school and parents wondering what the future might hold in store for their children.
For this upcoming year, for instance, the district allotted nearly $40,000 to be spread out among all teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels. This fall, the Bearcats’ regular-season schedule, which includes five away games, is budgeted for about $15,000.
This year’s Paso Robles varsity, JV and freshman football rosters total nearly 160 students, requiring multiple buses to be used for away games. Therefore, road trips out of the area average approximately $3,000 each; closer distances along the Central Coast are about $2,000. If the varsity squad qualifies for the playoffs, it could mean more travel.
The football program’s two longest trips this year during the regular season are at Centennial of Bakersfield and St. Francis of La Cañada, in the Los Angeles area.
Given the predicament, there was speculation among parents that such dates might be canceled.
“From the boys’ perspective, they feel like that would really impact their ability to compete against other teams that may have that luxury,” said Lenora Jeter, mother of junior running back Josh Jeter.
Each game was scheduled in advance during better financial times, but the Bearcats intend to honor those commitments, coach Rich Schimke said.
“Not only am I a teacher and a coach, but I’m also a fundraiser,” Schimke said.
While those impacted have said from the start that they prioritize basic classroom necessities above extracurricular pursuits, they’ve also stressed that out-of-the-classroom activities sanctioned by schools help keep many kids in class in the first place, and then provide extra motivation for them to keep grades up once they’re there.
“We want kids’ experience to be the same as it has been for the kids who came before them,” Schimke said.
The Gridiron Club is now trying to secure sponsorships, which offer in exchange season passes, advertising banners and announcements at games.
“I’m really hoping that community spirit will become involved,” Jeter said. “We’re hoping it develops into something strong not just for our kids, but other kids.”
For now, the Gridiron Club, which was organized in late April and is generating money for just the football program, is operating as an “arm” of the school’s general, all-sports booster club, Railsback explained, “under the umbrella” of Bearcat Boosters.
Bearcat Boosters president Dave Lambert said the Gridiron Club can be a helpful asset to the longstanding club, which has a core of just eight volunteers.
“We have 26 sports (varsity, JV and freshman) to raise money for,” Lambert said. “We can’t do it all. Each sport is actually going to have its own little club, a parent group (of its own) to help subsidize, and we’re still doing what we can.
“It’s actually going to be an easier way to do it,” he added. “We’re both working after the same thing.”
Typically, Bearcat Boosters raises between $60,000 and $80,000 a year for all the sports programs, Lambert said.
Bearcat Boosters “has done a great job as far as helping all sports, including football,” said the school’s athletic director and baseball coach, Derek Stroud. “With more clubs getting involved and working through the booster club, it’s going to help all sports and is going to make our athletic program stronger.
“We’re all in this together,” Stroud added.
Lambert said that care will have to be taken so that specific sports’ financial support groups don’t “step on each others’ toes” and overlap, possibly soliciting potential sponsor candidates in the community multiple times during such a cash-strapped period.