Pick Your Team

Lack of Sports Boosters, reliance on donations from families creates implications for uniforms, equity, funding
Pick Your Team

Senior Maxwell Zhang walks onto the golf course, hefting a club and the rest of his gear while wearing a green polo shirt he found in his closet. He looks at his teammates beside him, who are also wearing mismatched green shirts. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the other teams in the tournament, all sporting shiny new gear and custom polo shirts.

Zhang said the minimal amount of funding for gold led to equipment shortages.

“For the first two years I played, we didn’t actually have a uniform,” Zhang said. “They just wanted us to wear a green shirt. In tournaments, we can see the other teams have more funding.”

Zhang said golf costs a lot of money to upkeep and play.

“For golf, it’s pretty expensive because for some players that can be up to $1000,” Zhang said. “(Golf balls) take a really big chunk of funds because we have to practice (often). Approximately 15 players need to hit around 50 balls each, so you can see how the price adds up.”

General Funding

According to the Paly Athletics website, parent expectations include fundraising and providing financial support. According to the 2022-23 Athletic Department’s Manual, PAUSD provides funding for facility access, coach stipends, transportation budgets up to $50,000 and equipment reconditioning up to $15,000. All other revenue for general athletics comes from donations, concessions, ticket sales, sponsorships, apparel, merchandise and seasonal or annual fundraising events.

The manual also states “the minimum donation goal per student is $250,” and “every team will hold a team giving campaign to support their respective program’s needs and goals.” For Paly’s Sports Booster, their goal is to “raise funds and support special initiatives and capital improvement projects” for athletics through general donations and fundraisers. The program outreaches to Paly students and parents, but also to alumni and the broader Palo Alto community. However, many sports are self-funded and do not rely on the booster’s program.

AD Council and Student Athlete Leadership Team member Tasman Johnson said Paly Athletics is in the process of organizing the Paly Sports Boosters Program again but has yet to determine when it will be functional.

“I think (Paly Athletics) is trying to (bring back Sports Boosters),” Johnson said. “Some parents did step up this year for the tree lot, for example. I know (Sports Boosters) are looking for parents (to participate).”

Johnson said teams control their own budget and can conduct fundraisers.

“(For Paly Athletics), money goes to an overall general budget, and then each team has their own budget, which the coaches can do as they wish like buying uniforms and supplies for their teams,” Johnson said. “They can also fundraise to get money for their teams by working concessions at basketball or football games or doing Stanford parking. The money from that will go to the individual team’s accounts.”

Johnson also said ASB manages the accounts for Paly Athletics, as it allows for greater student representation.

“The money in Paly Athletics is now under ASB as it’s supposed to be — it’s the student body’s money,” Johnson said. “So the money spent by athletics is supposed to benefit (the students). 50% of the student body is supposed to be affected or be able to use that money spent. And that’s why it’s now under ASB, because it needs student representation.”

Funding Sources

Boys’ soccer coach David Light said his sport is primarily self-funded through donations from families.

“We have to pay $300 before the season, and those funds go towards uniforms and equipment,” Light said. “Seventy-five to eighty percent of our parents donate $300 each –– $100 of that goes towards Paly and the other $200 goes towards our soccer program. This season I bought uniforms for almost $6000 with the donations we got from parents. The money has to come from somewhere, so the parents chipping in and helping out is good.”

Davidson also said thousands of dollars of funding end up going towards the athletic department.

“We ask for a participation donation, but $100 of that per child automatically goes to the athletic department,” Davidson said. “So with 100 kids, imagine $10,000 goes to general athletics and whatever is left is what we get to use. There’s nothing coming from the athletic department, nothing coming from the school district and nothing coming from any other place (besides) the parents.”

Badminton coach Rudy Suarez said encouraging parent funding has helped with paying off the mounting debt from previous years’ coaches.

“When I started coaching last year, we were in a deficit because we owed money from the prior season,” Suarez said. “This year, it’s gotten better. One of the other coaches really took charge and got the parents organized to help with funding. He’s done an awesome job, so I’m thankful for him.”

Junior and assistant badminton captain Abhimanyu Deshpande said parents have stepped up their support through funding.

“Last year, there was a bunch of talk from the parents for increasing funding because we didn’t have uniforms,” Deshpande said. “There were a lot of emails going out to parents that donated because in some situations, it was possible we wouldn’t even get a bus. We were in a situation where we needed money just to get to the next school (for a competition).”

Davidson said the team has tried to participate in fundraising activities before, but they have not seen much success.

“Anytime we do have charges (for meets), it’s for league or CCS, and CCS, we don’t get any of that money,” Davidson. “We don’t participate in snack bars because those are nominal fundraisers, maybe $500 for instance. We tried to do a cross country Fun Run, but we never got enough traction. There were some other ideas we had early on, but none of those really manifested.”

But Suarez said badminton has participated in other fundraising efforts outside of parent donations, which has helped with the team’s funding.

“I tried to get the kids to talk to the Athletic Director to find different ways that kids can get funds for the team, like participating in the tree lot sale during Christmas time or volunteering during concessions basketball season,” Suarez said. “I know our team has done a little bit of that. This year, a lot of our players did work concessions at different sporting events, so that helped aside from parent donation.”

Usage of Funds

Girls varsity water polo coach Deke Rowell said only a small portion of the funds from parent donations go to uniforms.

“Last year, we asked for $400 per player and $100 of that goes to the Athletic Department directly,” Rowell said. “(The other part of the budget is) supposed to fund transportation, referees and tournament fees. Then, the remaining is for the girls’ suits.”

Senior varsity swim captain Grace Gormley said the team has been able to purchase new uniforms with their budget. Gormley also said selecting the right style uniforms is crucial in helping athletes feel comfortable while playing their sport.

“Most of the girls seem to like (the new suits), since the Jolyn brand is really popular,” Gormley said. “So we picked that brand because we wanted our swimmers to feel the most comfortable. Since I’ve been here, we have been able to get new suits every year, and we’ve also gotten pieces of merch that help the team look more cohesive.”

Gormley said athletes rely on donations from parents to help pay for other crucial equipment.

“Our families are able to contribute to help support the constant influx of clothes,” Gormley said. “I think that if a sport (doesn’t have) funding, and they don’t rely on donations, it would cause turmoil in terms of being able to get their merch, uniforms and the equipment they need because every sport isn’t just their clothes and their field.”

Track and field coach Michael Davidson said funds for the sport are key in replacing team uniforms.

“We seem to be ordering them every year because uniforms tend to walk off,” Davidson said. “There are no repercussions for (students) to have to turn the uniform back when we ask them to do that, so if the uniform doesn’t come back, we’ll have to repurchase uniforms. On top of that, there’s damage from usage.”

Edward Hattler, the boys lacrosse coach, said the team often has to replace equipment as well as uniforms.

“The balls go bad after a certain period of time, and we lose a lot of balls, so we have to buy new balls very frequently,” Hattler said. “Some (players) don’t have sticks, so we have to buy sticks, but then sticks can break.”

When there aren’t enough funds to purchase new uniforms for the students each year, sports teams often turn to used uniforms, prioritizing using remaining funds for purchasing equipment and uses for tournament travel.

Deshpande said it would be ideal to receive more funding for transportation and new equipment.

“We always need shuttles and better nets,” Deshpande said. “The nets we have are (usable), but it would be nice to get new ones since we share them with the PE classes. It would be nice to have a sports set that doesn’t get kind of messed up.”

Uniform Differences

Davidson said as a result of little funding, female athletes have been given the option to wear their own black shorts since the team hasn’t been able to purchase new uniforms.

However, the boys still have stricter guidelines based on league rules and must wear school-provided uniforms, so other track and cross coaches are striving to give Paly male athletes more uniforms options to wear.

“Some sprinters have the spandex,” Davidson said. “(While others) don’t and want to wear a different version. From an option standpoint, there’s not always the same options for girls as there are for boys from the manufacturers.”

Davidson also said the limitations of uniform choices are based on California Interscholastic Federation regulations.

“The CIF tends to make more options (for girls), and there are limitations based upon what the league says,” Davidson said. “CIF rules say what girls can wear and how their uniforms can be. But that’s where we have to adhere to certain types of sports and where some inequities come from what’s available.”

Girls varsity water polo coach Deke Rowell said prices differ between girls and boys’ uniforms as well.

“The mens’ suits are around $35 because there is a lot less suit,” Rowell said. “It’s like a Speedo, so their suits are less expensive.”

Rowell said girl’s water polo suits have changed over the years to become more revealing.

“If you watch the swim team, they have swimsuits that kind of cover their bottom,” Rowell said. “The water polo suits, for some reason, are more exposing. I’ve often thought to myself, ‘Those look uncomfortable’ –– the girls are pretty exposed.”

Rowell also said the topic of uncomfortableness with uniforms is not a conversation that he has had directly with the girls varsity water polo team.

“I think there are some girls that probably are uncomfortable, but no one’s ever brought it to my attention,” Rowell said. “I (tell them) we’ll get whatever suit you guys feel comfortable (and that) you want to wear.”

Rowell said he has had parents who have expressed surprise about the cut of the water polo uniforms.

“Quite frankly, when older people like parents and people come to watch the games, sometimes people are a little taken aback by the fact that the suits are somewhat revealing,” Rowell said.

Gormley said girls water polo is a sport that deals with inappropriate comments and harassment due to the nature of their uniforms.

“Swimsuits don’t have a lot of coverage,” Gormley said. “And that’s by nature because we have to be able to be fast, but if people are being inappropriate, it can leave us in a vulnerable position, which is definitely scary. That’s why it’s so important to have a positive culture, and it’s really hard if that culture is betrayed.”

Gormley also said there have been multiple instances where girls water polo athletes were photographed without their consent or subjected to inappropriate behavior during games.

“Last year, there were some cases of inappropriate photos being taken of members of the team,” Gormley said. “Those were situations that definitely made the girls feel a lot more uncomfortable and a lot more hesitant to be on the deck. But I think some policies were instituted to try to prevent that situation from happening again. Hopefully that will allow people to feel more comfortable.”

Funding Future

While most teams receive donations through parents, head volleyball coach Darryl Chan, said there are other ideas to increase funds for the team, including fundraisers hosted by the school and sports clinics.

For Chan, running a youth sports clinic brought in good money for the boy’s volleyball team.

“This year, we plan on running some community clinics for elementary and middle school kids as a way to allow us some exposure into the community and allow us to see some younger students who will be coming into the program for several years,” Chan said.

Chan said this type of fundraiser benefits both the team by raising funds and community morality, and benefits children as they get to grow their passion and techniques for a sport.

“By giving us an opportunity to train (prospect volleyball players) and get them started in the right fundamentals and mechanics, when they do come to Paly they’ll already have some good fundamentals,” Chan said.

Girls varsity golf captain and senior Alexa Piñeda said she participated in fundraisers for the golf her freshman year including Stanford parking –– which ASB organizes for sports teams and clubs –– and pancake breakfasts with the boys varsity golf team. But Pineda said many of these options ended or changed during the pandemic.

Rowell also said sports fundraisers are crucial, especially when a team’s gear and equipment are costly.

“We host games and tournaments,” Rowell said. “We also help run a national event, called Junior Olympics, which is here every other year. So we’re able to raise $5,000 on our own without donations.”

Outside of fundraisers, Chan said a Sports Booster program would greatly increase the funding for sports teams.

“Other schools’ (Sports Boosters) asked me twice a year for funding requests for new balls,” Chan said. “I could ask for equipment, and typically we got $1,000 to $2,000 per period. With the sports boosters, we’d buy uniforms almost every three or four years. Then we would go through the design process. The boosters with the athletic director would be approving the design and the costs.”

Hattler said ultimately, supporting high school sports carries tremendous benefits for students.

“Athletics is really important in people’s lives,” Hattler said. “It contributes to the growth and development of people. I was a captain of my college lacrosse team, and I think that leadership development through sports was very helpful. So, recognizing that and supporting that in the schools to the greatest extent possible (is important). I know there’s other competing demands and a limited amount of funds, but to me, athletics is very valuable.”

Athletic Assistant Fatima Giffen declined an interview request for this story. Assistant Principal in charge of athletics, LaDonna Butler, did not respond to interview requests, and Athletic Director Jennifer Crane initially agreed to an interview for the story but then did not respond to follow up requests to schedule an interview or answer questions.

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