Are booster clubs good for sports?

Published 7:50 pm Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I was both surprised and saddened to learn of the resignation of Isabella football coach and athletic director Lanny Jones.

Jones is as helpful and as friendly a person as I’ve worked with here, and I think he was a pretty good coach, too.

Jones helped Isabella go from a 23-game losing streak one season, in 2007, to eight wins and an appearance in the second round of the state playoffs the next year. He was once named The Clanton Advertiser’s Coach of the Year.

I don’t know all the circumstances of the resignation, but Jones did say he was asked to resign and that he was told his relationship with the athletic department’s booster club played some role.

The situation further demonstrates the growing influence booster clubs have in high school sports, especially football, even at smaller schools like Class 2A Isabella.

The top programs set the bar by spending college-football like money on facilities, equipment and even coaches’ pay. Schools themselves usually can’t provide enough money to keep up, so it falls to community members that have the means to make sure their program has the resources necessary to compete.

Booster clubs raise money to improve stadiums, build new weight rooms and provide stipends to coaches. That’s all fine—and probably necessary if wins are the goal.

Jemison is another local case study. Jemison used to have one booster club that raised money for all sports. Some community members decided that football needed more money, and so a Quarterback Club has been formed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A successful football team benefits all the other sports because it is usually the largest single revenue producer.

The question that arises, though, is how does a school prevent a booster club from having too much influence over the football program? A booster club can’t fire a coach, but it can decide to stop providing money. A booster club can’t hire a coach, but it can promise to provide lots of money if the school hires the guy that club members want.

This matters because coaches are employees of a school system charged with educating children—whether that be in the classroom or on the football field or both. Booster clubs, meanwhile, have no official affiliation with the school, and their priorities are often different.

College football is more of a business than ever, and it seems high school football isn’t far behind. All we can do is hope that the people in charge of our schools and sports booster clubs remember that the children’s education and well-being are the most important considerations.