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Discrepancies in BHS Athletics Funding Stem From Need

Illustration by Gemma Fa-Kaji

With over 29 varsity sports, 53 teams and close to 1200 participating student-athletes, it is no surprise that Berkeley High School (BHS) has one of the largest athletics program in California. For the success and survival of these sports teams, funding is vital.

Funding for sports comes from several different places, such as the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Athletics Budget, Berkeley Athletic Fund (BAF), individual team funds, and gate receipts (ticket sales). The majority of the BUSD Athletics Budget is spent on coach and referee salaries, transportation, and equipment. The Berkeley Athletic Fund, which is run by parent/guardian volunteers, funds all of the freshman coach and assistant coach salaries, along with large team expenses, such as new uniforms and equipment.

Despite getting funding from several places, it is common knowledge that the funding isn’t equally distributed among teams. This raises the question: why do some sports receive more funding than others?

According to Britta Fjelstrom, the athletic director of BHS, some sports receive more funding because they are simply more expensive to operate. “For example, in order for us to have a football team we must spend money on equipment, uniforms, reconditioning expenses (checking the helmets and shoulder pad for imperfections) and referees” said Fjelstrom. She also explained how badminton, on the other hand, only required rackets, which students often already own, birdies, and a t-shirt uniform.

She compared the costs of both sports, saying, “This year referees for football alone cost $3275. A case of badminton birdies, which would last the entire season (maybe two seasons), cost $419.51.”

Fjelstrom also pointed out that football has consistently been the most expensive sport, as they have the large rosters per team, and each individual requires equipment that is provided by the school. For the safety of students, helmets and pads must be kept up to date, which is a costly endeavor. On the other hand, badminton and golf have consistently been the least expensive, due to their small rosters, cheaper uniforms, and less equipment required.

Many other factors come into play when deciding how much funding a sports team receives. Fjelstrom said, “The amount of funding a team receives is based on need. After stipends, dues, referee fees, and transportation, the district budget is used to supply the necessities of each sport (i.e. tennis balls, basketballs, catcher’s gear, nets, etc.).”

She stated that the district tries to supply as much of the teams’ yearly expenses, budget permitted. The district will fund the more expensive items, such as expensive equipment, if the budget allows for it. If not, the items can be purchased through BAF grants or team funds.

While BAF manages all team funds, the funds raised belong to the individual team that raised them. The team funds are often spent on extra tournament fees, awards banquet, uniforms, equipment, and other miscellaneous expenses that aren’t covered by the other funding. Fjelstrom said, “Some teams fundraise a lot of money (three thousand to ten thousand dollars a year). Those teams may purchase more equipment items, buy uniforms more often, go on more trips/tournament or have other more expensive events/items.”

BHS was a founding member of the California Interscholastic Federation of High School Sports (CIF), and as a part of the organization must obey certain guidelines of appropriate funding. “As a large urban public school, we do not have as robust a budget that other schools may have to support their athletics” said Fjelstrom. “It’s important to us that any student, regardless of their financial situation, has the opportunity to play sports. Therefore, we use every penny available and work to stretch funds to make sure that every team has what is needed.”

So the next time you see  a soccer player wearing a fancy parka, or a baseball player lugging around a duffel bag full of gear, remember that it isn’t a reflection of favoritism from the athletic department.