published Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Booster clubs vital for some Chattanooga area school sports teams

Tracy Wright speaks to members of the Ringgold High School Booster Club in the band room in this file photo. Parents meet twice a month through football season to discuss matters of fundraising and budgeting.
Tracy Wright speaks to members of the Ringgold High School Booster Club in the band room in this file photo. Parents meet twice a month through football season to discuss matters of fundraising and budgeting.
Miranda Harple

While they are considered to be "silent partners," school booster clubs can help determine the success of the athletic programs they support, particularly in football.

For instance, several years ago Hixson High's Wildcats Quarterback Club, combined with money from Hamilton County, funded the remodeling of the fieldhouse, with upgrades costing around $100,000. Former Hixson coach Houston White said the renovations gave players not only newer and better workout equipment but also a feeling of being part of something important to the school.

For similar reasons, South Pittsburg coach Vic Grider said his program's booster club helps create an air of belonging to a program with high standards and expectations.

"Our booster club takes care of things ranging from our pregame meals -- and it's a nice meal every week -- to paying for the kids' cleats and their travel suits to even making sure we take a charter bus to just about any away game," Grider said. "The boosters think it makes the team look professional and makes the kids feel like they're a part of something like a small college program.

"Our [booster] club paid for the video system the coaches use in the fieldhouse, the new scoreboard, the face-lift for our stadium and even the hotel whenever we play for a state championship.

"It's just something extra that makes the players and coaches feel like they're part of something special."

Schools' athletic budgets are stretched thin because of the rising costs just to outfit the roster. From the top of his $250 helmet to the soles of his $100 cleats, each football player wears nearly $1,000 in equipment.

The influence may go unseen by some fans, but coaches understand their jobs are made easier by booster clubs that are typically made up of former players, parents of players and other folks with strong emotional ties to a program.

"Every program I know of -- not just in the Chattanooga area, but about every high school football program in the country -- relies heavily on its booster club to make things go," said East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood. "When we started our program, one of the first things we knew we needed was for our community to assist us. We had to build a strong booster club because that's a vital part of every successful program.

"And the coaching staff appreciates our boosters because they do so much behind-the-scenes work that most people who show up on Friday nights for the games don't even realize."

Like most of the Chattanooga area, East Hamiton has individual booster clubs for each sport. TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said the state's governing body advises against that practice, however.

"We have no rules and do not oversee booster clubs in any way," Childress said. "But we do tell our administrators that we recommend schools have one booster club that funds the entire athletic program and not just one for each sport. The reason is so often the booster clubs for boys' sports raise more money and supply those players with things the girls' sports may not get. It can create jealousy within a school.

"We do recognize that football booster clubs are kind of their own animal. But we did recently change a portion of our bylaws, and it will go into effect next year, to state that coaches cannot be paid in any way by a booster club unless it has been approved by that school's board of education, director of schools or principal. But otherwise we won't get involved in overseeing booster clubs."

Rumors have circulated for as long as booster clubs exists about whether they can pay coaching staffs an incentive for accomplishing certain goals each season. But should any school's booster club pay a coach's supplement, it opens itself up to tax and social security responsibilities.

Similar to Tennessee's prep sports governing body, the Georgia High School Association does not involve itself in regulating booster clubs.

"The GHSA in no way regulates booster clubs," said GHSA director of media relations Steve Figueroa. "That is left completely up to the local school board or system. We would not be involved in those decisions any more than we would in what a school system pays a math or English teacher."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

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