By Matt Constas and Joey Hanf
Recent studies have shown that youth sports in America have suffered major drops in participation and funding. Breaking that trend, the Dryden Lacrosse program has attained full funding for the 2015-16 season at both varsity and middle school levels.
Since it’s inception in 2000, Dryden Lacrosse was funded solely through the efforts of the families and volunteers of the club, which was not affiliated with the school district from a financial standpoint.
In 2011, the Dryden School District began providing transportation and insurance for the teams, but all other costs were not covered. The team had to pay for coaches, referees, equipment, and all other league fees through their own fundraising.
The members of the club fundraised in numerous ways. They held pancake breakfasts, bake sales, silent auctions, and sold popcorn among other things.
“You name it, we did it,” said Lisa Zehr, the co-chair of the Dryden Lacrosse club.
Dryden Lacrosse applied for the Sports Matter grant in 2014. The initiative was started by Dick’s Sporting Goods to support programs that inspire and enable participation in youth sports throughout the United States.
After the club raised $8,500 themselves, Sports Matter approved the Dryden Lacrosse program, and matched more than that figure. Dick’s Sporting Goods has contributed a total of $17,800 to the program within the past year.
Zehr held a leadership role in both fundraising and applying for the grant.
“As [sports] budgets kept getting trimmed, more and more sports were having to fundraise in the community,” Zehr said. “As we looked at this, we knew costs were rising. You have to pay your coaches, you have to pay your referees. We were having a hard time raising enough money, so we applied for the Dicks Sporting Goods grant, which allowed us to double our efforts.”
Sports teams across the nation have struggled to find sufficient funding in recent years. Youth participation rates are down, and the priority for sports funding has taken a hit given the economic struggles our country has faced. School districts have to be even more careful with their spending.
Bryan Ford, athletic director of the Dryden Central School District, spoke about the challenging budget decisions schools have to make.
“You can’t really have big spikes in expense without having to probably take money from somewhere else,” Ford said. “Your revenues are on a very dictated trajectory.”
Ford said the grant and other fundraising was key in the overall process of obtaining approval by the district’s Board of Directors.
“It made the transition to the school funding the sport smoother because we were able to purchase uniforms and helmets with the [Sports Matter grant] money,” Ford said. “Between those two things, it would have been a significant one-time expense for the school to take on.”
Many athletic departments in Central New York, as well as across the country, have been forced to cut funding from sports teams. This has left teams like Dryden Lacrosse with few options; either fold completely, or raise money on their own.
“The full funding was a big weight off the shoulders of the parent volunteers who were responsible for raising almost $9,000 per year to support the varsity boys team and a modified boys team,” Cole said.
With the school funding now official, Dryden Lacrosse is positioned strongly for the future. Ford said he believes youth sports have a positive impact on personal growth in students.
“We’ve done a lot of studies on our students here, athletes vs. non-athletes, to see how they do across the board,” Ford said. “Whether its grades, attendance or behavior; the athletes do significantly better. It is so clear that kids being active is going to lead to better educational outcomes. I think this story is a success in that regard.”