Sports

By Eli Fishman, Sports Co-Editor

Excluding staff salaries and field maintenance, Columbia High School (CHS) spends approximately $885,550 to support team sports, according to district budget documents. This includes 25 different sports, which when broken down by level (varsity, freshman, junior varsity) totals 45 distinct teams, plus cheer and marching band. So, where does the money go?

According to CHS Interim Athletic Director Ken Mullen, in 2020-21, the athletic budget is broken down into several different areas, which includes $114,000 for supplies, and $72,000 to referees, scorekeepers and officials. 

The single largest amount Mullen specifically identified is $200,000 for transportation. With access to district buses limited on weekdays, the school must hire an outside company, Jimmy’s Transportation, to take CHS teams to and from away games. “That cost is quite expensive,” Mullen said. “Just sending out a freshman boys soccer [team] if we were using an outside bus company… costs around $500 dollars or more.” He added that one bus trip can cost as much as $700. 

Each sport directly receives an average stipend of approximately $2,500 to spend freely, Mullen said, clarifying later that the number is just an average. He explained that “some sports will get more based on their particular sport,” as larger amounts are devoted to teams that require additional equipment such as football and lacrosse rather than less gear-heavy sports like tennis or cross country. With 25 teams each receiving roughly $2,500, approximately $65,500 from the athletic budget goes directly to teams.

Many teams also raise funds themselves to supplement what is provided by the school. In addition to organizing activities such as car washes and coupon sales, many sports have dedicated booster organizations that raise funds throughout the year.

After taking into consideration the specifically identified spending points, approximately $451,000 remains in the athletic budget. According to Mullen, these funds are divided into various items.

Among these is the cost for use of outside facilities. Each year, the school rents out The Union Boys and Girls Club for the swim team, and New Jersey Fencing Alliance for the fencing program. Ice hockey is played at the county owned Codey Arena in West Orange. 

Another cost at CHS is for use of fields owned by the towns of South Orange and Maplewood, including Maplecrest, Meadowland and Memorial Parks. The school contributes money towards a field usage fund dedicated to the maintenance and upkeep of those fields. Spending on fields exclusively utilized by CHS athletics, such as Ritzer and Underhill Field, come out of the district’s general maintenance budget. In 2020-21, $91,000 was allocated to maintenance at Underhill Field. 

Depending on the sport and role, coaches receive between $3,811 and $10,029 per season, with varsity football’s coach receiving the largest amount and wrestling’s and basketball’s not far behind. Approximately $359,958 goes toward paying coaches, with an average per coach salary of approximately $5,624 per season. According to Mullen, this pay and all other salaries in the athletic department come out of the budget for teacher salaries. 

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In 2018-19, CHS rival Millburn High School (MHS) spent $944,290 on athletics, $122,756 more than CHS did. However, it is difficult to compare the two as MHS’s budget includes field maintenance and transportation, while CHS’s does not take either staff salary or field maintenance into account.

According to MHS’s website, the school spent $2,893 on technology (headsets, scoreboards, cameras), $124,932 on officials and scorers as well as field rentals, $67,067 on equipment, and $11,219 on “other objects.” 

Millburn’s 2020-21 budget calls for $124,500 on “field trip and athletic” transportation, meaning MHS spent significantly less on transportation than CHS. 

In the 2018-19 school year, Millburn spent $738,180 paying their coaches, one trainer and one secretary. Subtracting the salaries of the trainer and secretary, which add up to $133,794, approximately $596,386 is spent on paying coaches. With 67 staff members on payroll, the average coach makes $8,901 per season, $3,277 more than CHS’s current average. 

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the budget for school sports. This fall, teams were limited in the number of games they played. This is due to the extra buses that were used on each trip due to social distancing protocols. “Normally boys soccer would play 20-23 games in a regular season. This season they played about 14-15, and at times we had to provide additional buses,” Mullen said. 

Multiple projects that were in the works, such as turf maintenance and adding fencing to the baseball fields at Underhill, were put on hold. Money that was allocated for such projects and the canceled 2020 spring sports season may have gone toward helping the district supply Chromebooks for students at home. “Finishing projects that we got started is a priority… when the baseball project started [we weren’t] dealing with a pandemic,” Mullen explained. “Education takes priority, because that’s what we’re in the business for. We have to educate our students,” he concluded. 

Designed by Leo Preston