Struggle for economic diversity in CMS extends to athletic fields

Struggle for economic diversity in CMS extends to athletic fields

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's an hour before kickoff. Garinger High School is getting ready to play host to near-town rival East Mecklenburg. The sun is beginning to set over the football stadium bleachers and no one is working harder than James Hooks.

"I want to see everyone of these kids succeed," said Hooks.

He spends his home-game Friday nights setting up concession stands and t-shirt tables. Hooks is in charge of the booster club supporting Garinger High School's Athletic Department. Actually, he's pretty much the entire athletic booster club. There are only two other paid members.

"We have a very small booster club and booster clubs play a very important role in athletics," said Garinger High School Athletic Director Tony Huggins.

Outside booster clubs play an important role because the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District offers just basic financial support. CMS supplies about $7000 to start the year. More money comes later for things like game officials and security. The extras like new uniforms, equipment and facility upgrades often have to come from private donations.

"This room right here would be a prime example of (needing) updating," said Huggins walking through the football locker room.

The locker room at Garinger is small and cramped, so much so, the equipment is stored in a shower. For schools like Garinger, in a neighborhood, where family resources are often limited, raising extra money is tough.

"We do have parents who come out and give all that they can," said Huggins. "Unfortunately, the dollars are just different."

"People look at it as I need to eat as opposed to putting money in the booster club," said Hooks.

Hooks hopes his booster club can raise $7000 this year to support Garinger's athletic efforts. A small fraction of what other clubs are raising.

WBTV Investigates examined tax records for the non-profit groups working in support of CMS athletics. Some clubs are pulling in tens out thousands of dollars, or more. Ardrey Kell High School in the southern part of Mecklenburg County is one of the "or mores."

"This is my sixth year with the booster club," said Melody Amendola.

Amendola is the Ardrey Kell Booster Club President. She leads of a board of 22 members.

"It's about making sure Ardrey Kell has what it needs to be successful," said Amendola.

Ardrey Kell has an army of volunteers working hard to meet its goals. They run fundraisers, corral sponsors and sell memberships. Remember, Garinger has three paid athletic club members, Ardrey Kell has about 500 and each is paying between $50 and $400 dollars.

"It takes a village to have a booster club be successful and we are very, very thankful," said Amendola.

Brian Knab is the Ardrey Kell Athletic Director.

"We are very lucky," said Knab. "Most of these parents have a full-time job. This isn't their full-time job and so the hours they give above and beyond that, it's a sacrifice," said Knab. "You can't really have a strong athletic program at the high school level without a very strong booster club and we do."

Between the booster club's efforts, individual team fundraisers, season ticket sales, concessions and renting out their stadium to youth leagues, Ardrey Kell raised more than a million dollars over the past couple years.  The athletic department has 20 corporate sponsors.

Garinger has one.

"That helped us getting uniforms for the cheerleaders and for some of the basketball players," said Hooks.

The money gap can also widen because of athletic event attendance. Big schools, with successful teams might draw 3000 spectators on a Football Friday Night. Others might only draw 300. At $6 a ticket, plus the added concessions purchased by all those extra people, means several thousand extra dollars per home game.

Garinger is able to tap into some other resources through local and national foundations. Also, other schools have donated equipment in the past. Myers Park, for example, recently donated weight room equipment.

Amendola at Ardrey Kell empathizes with the financial challenges at some schools and she says she is more than willing to meet with and help any booster club develop a solid fundraising plan.

"I am willing to offer any kind of advice, or any kind of guidance to an athletic director, or to another parent on how you can easily make some money with community support," said Amendola.

Tony Huggins at Garinger, won't call the money imbalance unfair, and he won't use it as an excuse. It's just a reason to get back to work.

"Still a lot more work to be done, but we are heading in the right direction," said Huggins.

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