School Districts Grapple with Financial Impact of Irma has partnered with LexisNexis to bring you this content.

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


Students are in class, teams are practicing after school, and Southwest Florida enjoyed a full slate of football games for the first time in almost a month last week.

The high school football season slowly is getting back on track after Hurricane Irma, but not all is back to normal. As the damage is repaired and makeup games are scheduled, athletic directors now must deal with the long-term financial effects of the most punishing storm many of them can remember.

The Lee County School District provides each of its 13 high schools a $50,000 athletic subsidy annually. That doesn't mean the schools don't depend heavily on football revenue.

Fort Myers High athletic director Cameron Yearsley said the school was facing a loss of about $20,000.

Most was from a home football game against South Fort Myers, a prominent opponent which Yearsley estimated would have drawn about $10,000 in ticket revenue, $2,000 in parking and up to $3,000 in concessions. That game is not currently scheduled to be made up.

A Green Wave home cross country meet scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 9, that also was wiped out would have raised about $6,000 specifically for the boys and girls cross country programs, Yearsley said.

That revenue - from $100 entry fees for each of the boys and girls teams from about 30 schools - pays for hotel stays and other accommodations for Green Wave runners at away meets the rest of the season.

"It's going to be a little tight this year," Yearsley said. "We'll just have to re-evaluate our budget, look at necessities versus wants, and prioritize."

Cypress Lake athletic director Liam Farrell estimates the school lost close $20,000 in ticket sales revenue from lost athletic events due to Hurricane Irma. The Panthers' rivalry game against Fort Myers was estimated to bring in $8,500 in ticket sales.

Cypress' rescheduled game with Island Coast on Monday will offset the loss some, but attendance isn't expected to be as strong on a Friday, Farrell said.

Pete Bohatch, director of student services and the athletic director for Lee County schools, estimated county-wide athletics losses to be at least $100,000.

"I would say low six (figures) for sure," he said.

Self-funded Collier feels pinch

Collier County athletic departments are self-funded, meaning they don't use any public money. Every dollar teams spend for uniforms, equipment or any other expense except for travel must be raised by the school itself.

Almost the entire athletic budget at local public schools comes from ticket sales to football games. When a game is lost, as many were to Irma, athletes and teams can suffer.

"A big game could bring in $20,000 or up, maybe even more," Naples High athletic director Ernie Modugno said. "The financial hit is just something we all in some way have to deal with. Hopefully it will sort itself out, and hopefully this weather will even itself out soon. I haven't seen a season quite like this."

All seven public schools in Collier County lost at least one home game during Irma. Gulf Coast, Lely and Palmetto Ridge lost two. The Sharks had to play a third home game at a neutral field because of damage to their stadium.

Schools don't miss out on just ticket sales. They also lose the concession and parking revenues that either go to certain clubs or go into the overall athletic budget.

Modugno, who has been at Naples since 1981 and the athletic director since 1986, said the concession stand can clear up to $7,000 on a good night. That's money the band booster club will have to do without.

At Lely, the football booster club handles parking and keeps the $5-per-car entry fee, which can equal $1,000 or more on a busy Friday. Trojans athletic director Bill Mottola said the football team gets hit twice by canceled games - it loses the gate money, so more of its budget must go to help other sports, and it loses the money its booster club uses to support the team.

Mottola estimated Lely lost $6,000 to $8,000 by canceling its Week 4 home game against Sebring.

Adjusting the budget

The loss of tens of thousands of dollars means cutbacks in athletic departments. However, ADs aren't admitting defeat just yet.

Most schools and booster clubs will try to ramp up their fundraising to cover the financial gap left by Irma. That means turning to sponsors to donate a bit more, buy new uniforms or help cover other costs.

"Some schools just redouble their efforts in fundraising, going to (sponsors) they know will be supportive," Modugno said. "Some schools that's not as doable. We'll have to wait and see what the numbers will be before we know what we'll need."

If there is a budget deficit, athletic directors will have to scale back. That could mean no new uniforms this year, or no replacing equipment.

"Typically what ends up happening is, a team scheduled to get uniforms, if there's a short at the football gate, they have to wait or come up with fundraising," Mottola said.

In the case of cross country it might mean cutting out or shortening overnight stays at some meets, said Yearsley. Even for schools opting to apply this year's entry fee to next year's meet, it's still a lost year from the teams' primary revenue source.

"Hopefully if all goes well we can have a home playoff game," Yearsley said of the football team, which covers the bulk of costs for the athletic department. "It generates a little bit more revenue, parking and concession. That always helps."

Bohatch, is gathering estimates from Lee County schools as part of the district's overall claim to FEMA for storm losses, which in athletics oftentimes include revenues for junior ROTC groups for parking revenue and band groups for some of concession revenue.

"That kind of stuff filters down to a lot of groups on campus," he said. "They're losing a lot of revenue."

Friday night football games postponed by Irma but rescheduled for Mondays or Tuesdays this season aren't eligible for reimbursement because the games are still being played, Bohatch said, even though the revenue from a mid-week game isn't equal to a Friday night.

"Football is a pretty big deal when it comes to revenue," he said. "It oftentimes will pay for a lot of the minor sports that don't generate revenue."

Even though there isn't a timetable for when reimbursements might be received, Bohatch was confident schools won't face shortfalls for necessities such as transportation or officials, in part because athletics budgets are calculated for the entire school year.

"Schools are fine. They're going to get what they need," he said. "Nobody's going to be without anything right now. (Spring sports are) something we're going to have to take a look at if FEMA doesn't pull through. But we're hoping they will."

Reporter Adam Regan of USA TODAY NETWORK-FLORIDA contributed to this article

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October 3, 2017


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