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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who can save Jacksonville's HS cross-country teams?

From the Times Union

by Gene Frenette

As we march closer to that dreaded day of Duval County losing at least 10 varsity high school programs, and maybe more, due to a massive education budget shortfall, many people aren’t willing to give up on saving this valuable commodity.

Doug Alred, the owner of 1st Place Sports and Gate River Run director, is one of them. He wants to spearhead an effort to raise $69,598, the amount needed for coaching supplements to save the 17 boys and girls cross-country programs at each public high school.

Like many others wanting to be proactive, Alred is venturing into unchartered territory. Tons of questions remain unanswered: How should the fund-raising be set up? Could the school board reinstate a sport if only half the money is raised by mid-June? How would the fund-raising work and does it vary for each sport?

County athletic director Jon Fox welcomes any financial support he can get to keep cross country, golf, tennis and lacrosse (all boys and girls sports), as well as wrestling and slow-pitch softball from being cut. When the next school board budget workshop convenes on Friday, he intends to make proposals on parameters for any fund-raising effort.

“I think it’s important that each sport have its separate pot,” Fox said. “I’m going to try to get some groups that are interested [in saving a sport] where they can set up a mechanism to make donations. We need someone familiar with each sport’s community to head it up. That’s our best hope.”

Related: Gene Frenette: Pay-for-play should be part of game

Nobody is more engaged in Jacksonville’s running circles than Alred. He knows high school is where kids often get introduced to a sport. Each boys-girls sport combined and wrestling would have to raise close to $70,000 to be spared, with slow-pitch softball at $33,915.

“I think $70,000 [to save cross country] is attainable,” said Alred. “It’s a scary thing to think we’d cut these sports and people wouldn’t want to help out.”

Alred is starting with a $10,000 donation for cross country through his business, plus adding $5 for every non-sale shoe purchased at one of his four stores through the end of June. He refuses to let cross country disappear without a fight.

“If we do nothing, the kids lose,” Alred wrote in an email.

The question is: how many business owners or citizens are passionate enough to step up to save public school sports from expulsion? Now is the time for bold action because it looks like the money will have to come from the private sector.

Related: Gene Frenette: No time to rejoice for sports spared in cuts

Fox hopes to establish a 501 (c)3 non-profit, allowing people to make tax-deductible contributions to whichever sport they wish to help salvage.

This is just like a real game. There’s little time left. Budget recommendations for the next school year are done by July.

High school sports in Jacksonville is facing the biggest possible loss. We’ll see how badly the public wants to save them.,

(904) 359-4540

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