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Spring football in 2010 on chopping block

LAND O'LAKES — A Wednesday morning brainstorm of budget trimming ideas for Pasco County prep sports were written in marker on two large sheets of white paper, and taped on adjoining walls of a conference room at Sunlake High.

Around noon, the assemblage of 11 county high school athletic directors, two high school principals and two middle school ADs were asked to put a check mark by the ideas they most favored. By 12:30, nine check marks had been etched beside the proposal to eliminate spring football in 2010.

Those marks may ultimately represent the signed death warrant for a May fixture in local prep athletics.

The proposal to end spring ball was the most significant of several ideas approved by a majority of the group, trying to do its part to help the school district trim millions from its budget. It also voted to recommend abolishing the 20 days' worth of summer pay football coaches receive.

"I understand this is a recommendation. But if they take my 20 extra days, which comes to around $5,000 for me, I will not coach," said Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto, who just completed his 32nd season.

"It will set football back in Pasco, put us further behind the state if we're the only ones that do it," Hudson coach Mark Nash added. "But they have to do what they have to do money-wise."

County athletic director Phil Bell, who presided over the meeting, will share the suggestions with assistant superintendent Jim Davis, who will in turn convey them at Tuesday's school board budget workshop. Any board vote to end spring football wouldn't be effective until the 2009-10 school year. It also wouldn't be unprecedented.

The board voted to eliminate spring practice in 1992 — the year Pasco High won the Class 3A state title — in a similar cost-cutting move, only to re-implement it the following year.

"Nobody wants to be uncomfortable," Ridgewood athletic director Gary Anders said. "But these are probably going to be uncomfortable times."

Eliminating spring football would save each school a minimum $5,426 in supplements paid to coaches (one head coach, six assistants) for spring practice, as well as possibly reducing insurance costs.

Sunlake principal Angie Stone, who attended the meeting, said her program generated only $1,200 for last year's spring intrasquad game, hardly enough to cover supplemental costs.

"Obviously it's going to affect us as head football coaches with the amount of time and stuff we put in, but I understand the county being in a tough position, they're going to have to make cuts somewhere," Ridgewood coach Chris Taylor said. "I'm hoping we can still do some things with spring football and not get it cut completely."

Other recommendations included eliminating the 20 extra contract days paid during the summer to football coaches, band directors, etc.; raising ticket prices to sporting events; and cutting one football and track coaching supplement for each middle school.

The group also discussed eliminating nonrevenue sports, scheduling junior varsity and varsity baseball contests on the same night in a doubleheader format, and staging junior varsity and middle school football contests Saturday afternoons. None were passed along as formal recommendations.

"Obviously none of this is carved in stone," Bell said. "We're putting our heads together and seeing what we think."

The group also briefly discussed the long-term viability of the Sunshine Athletic Conference, which consists of all county public high schools. The SAC executive board, consisting of the county's high school ADs and principals, will meet Feb. 5 at River Ridge to determine whether to split the conference into east and west divisions or abolish it outright.

Spring football in 2010 on chopping block 12/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 2:24pm]
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