High school athletic budgets can be tight, but Williamston has found ways to maximize funds and use fundraising to help programs.
WILLIAMSTON, Mich. - Inequality in high school sports can make itself known in plenty of different ways. In competition, it may be large scoring margins and well-paid coaches.
Sometimes, it’s the financial bottom line that can create the most separation from one school to the next, without a single athlete hitting the field.
Williamston High School tries to make the most of its resources, which is around $16,000 for all its 16 sports programs – from varsity on down.
“My budget isn’t very big,” said Tom Hampton, Williamston’s athletic director and a math teacher at the high school. “I can only set aside so much for each sport.”
Not all schools are built alike: WHS football competes in Class B of Division 4, while a handful of nearby competitors, such as Haslett, have higher enrollments and are placed in Class A.
Williamston has benefitted financially from community support. Thanks in large part to local efforts through the school’s booster clubs, parents and other members of the community have raised around $35,000 this year for the football team alone - something football booster club president Austin Holcomb said was a “significant amount” in fundraising.
The football boosters are a registered non-profit organization, with a leadership board. Their outreach to local businesses, combined with concession sales at home games and other team-related projects, drives most of their fundraising.
“Through the generosity of local business and the continued support of hundreds of individuals throughout the community, we are able to support a high-level program,” Holcomb said.
That generosity doesn’t begin and end with football, either. Williamston sets up booster clubs for each sport and allows individual sports to fundraise for themselves. Hampton noted that the school’s wrestling team has had strong support since he became athletic director five years ago, as has the boys and girls’ basketball and swimming teams.
“Our district doesn't have to spend all the (budget) money on athletics because of booster clubs,” Hampton said. “We are able to have a more stout general fund and can allocate funds for academic purposes
While all that money isn’t guaranteed to go directly to go back to the teams, it has created a competitive advantage for the rest of the Hornets’ athletic teams.
“I think the extra money does give us a leg up in terms of our facilities,” Hampton said. “Our soccer complex, for example, has three of the nicest natural turf fields anywhere and probably the nicest in mid-Michigan.”
The reality for some schools is that the funding isn’t always there. Eight-man football has grown in popularity and is another outlet for schools that lack the enrollment and drive to support large teams. In Williamston, those fundraising efforts have made major worries pretty much vanish.
That has enabled longtime football head coach Steve Kersten to focus more on the X’s and O’s. Kersten’s Hornets squad went 7-2 in the regular season and earned the top seed in their region. With three home games to start their playoff run, they fell just short of a state championship appearance, losing to Chelsea on Saturday in the state semifinal.
“It’s a big plus for us,” Kersten said. “Our boosters have done an outstanding job for 18 years. It allows our football program to focus on our core belief - investing in the lives of young men.”
Holcomb, and the other six officers of the booster club have focused on making the core tenets of Kersten’s program achievable. Kersten’s focus on creating “champions in life” is something the boosters take to heart, supporting endeavors that help the Hornets on the field and off.
“Our No. 1 priority is to help purchase state of the art equipment, such as helmets,” Holcomb said. There are plenty of times the boosters have been able to help directly with tasks that ordinarily are logistical nightmares. “Our team traveled to Escanaba for a regional playoff game last year. We charted busses for the trip so they didn’t have to ride 8 hours in a school bus,” Holcomb said.
The Williamston boosters are also active in the youth development of the game. Holcomb leads the Williamston Youth Sports board, a source of early development in football for kids as early as third grade.
“Our pitch for getting these donations is pretty simple,” Holcomb said. “We are helping to provide a great program for our young athletes.”