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Tight money hurts sports nationwide

School sports programs across the country are feeling the bite of economic hard times.

In Chicago, $1.5-million in budget cuts have put winter and spring sports programs in danger. A year ago, Los Angeles cut nearly $1-million _ 20 percent of it athletic budget, eliminating Saturday games, dropping junior varsity football and suspending travel to road games for school bands and drill teams.

Extra pay for coaches in Los Angeles recently was cut by 9 percent, a savings of approximately $145,000. Earlier, two administrative positions in the district's athletic office were cut, saving another $180,000 in salaries and fringe benefits, but leaving a single sports administrator for the second largest school district in the country.

An Associated Press survey found that pay-to-play programs _ where athletes are charged fees for their participation _ have been imposed in some states including Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico.

Other systems have sought to close budget gaps with fund-raising activities like golf outings, garage sales and theatrical productions, the survey found.

"The situation is very bad virtually everywhere in the country," said Wayne Wilson, director of research and library services for the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, which conducted a conference on the matter last spring.

"We had about 55 or 60 people at the conference from all over the country and most of the people felt it would be necessary to find outside sources of funding," Wilson said. "In terms of proposed solutions, people recommended developing a better understanding of the commercial value of high school sports.

"Without some outside funding, it will be impossible to fund high school sports at the same level they've been funded in the past. I would say in many school districts, that needs to begin immediately."

Fred Clark, athletic director of the Harrisburg, Pa., School District, said he thought interscholastic programs would solve the financial crisis much the way many major bowl games already have.

"In the future," he said, "you're going to see football having corporate sponsors."

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