Mecosta County Community Foundation decreases funding to area schools

FOOTBALL: Morley Stanwood's Dayne Edgerly (right) looks for an opening during football minicamp on Wednesday. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

FOOTBALL: Morley Stanwood’s Dayne Edgerly (center) looks for an opening during football minicamp on Wednesday. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

BIG RAPIDS – For more than two decades, three Mecosta County high schools have received grant funding to help students pay athletic participation fees.

That is changing this year.

Big Rapids, Chippewa Hills and Morley Stanwood high schools previously received about $2,500 each annually from the Mecosta County Community Foundation’s Spirit of the Season fund, which was created in 1993.

This year, however, the $140,812 endowment, which was set up for the benefit of disadvantaged Mecosta County youth, has not generated enough income to provide the schools with the funds, and the foundation is saving its capital for future projects.

“We only can give out a certain amount of money each year, and this specific fund hasn’t really made that much money lately,” said Stacy Chaput, foundation first vice president and Youth Advisory Council leader. “We’re trying to build the fund back up.”

The schools have made adjustments to help offset the lack of funding. Morley Stanwood has incorporated its free and reduced lunch program with athletic fees.

Previously, the Spirit of the Season funding would be designated for athletic fee waivers for students who could not afford to pay. There will be no more waivers this year.

Instead, Morley Stanwood’s athlete fees are predicated on the free and reduced lunch program. For high school athletics, students who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch pay $75 per sport, while students who qualify for reduced lunch pay $50 per sport. Students on free lunch pay $25 per sport. Students who play three sports will be able to play the third sport at no charge.

Roger Cole, Morley Stanwood Community Schools superintendent, said about 44 percent of high school students submitted free or reduced lunch applications last year. There are about 400 high school students who can participate in athletics.

MSHS Athletic Director Clark Huntey estimates about 50 percent of those students play at least one sport, meaning about 88 students on free or reduced lunch participate in athletics.

Huntey said the high school previously gave about 20-25 athletic scholarships per year.

“We will probably lose a little money,” Huntey said. “We don’t have the money in our (athletic department) account to fully fund those kids, so normally, someone on reduced or free lunch, the foundation would come in and pay the $75 for the (scholarship) student. So technically, we’re losing about $50 on each student who qualifies for free lunch. Over the course of the school year, it probably won’t be a huge deficit, but it still has an impact.”

Chippewa Hills will still offer athletic scholarships/waivers, but will appropriate funds from other sources in order to accommodate those students.

The school will use a portion of the money raised from the school’s Warrior banquet this year toward athletic fees. Chippewa Hills also will rely on sports boosters for additional funding.

However, those funds are typically allocated for improvement projects which can’t be purchased out of the general fund, such as athletic facility upgrades.

“This year for example, (sports boosters) helped our softball team build a new batting cage, and $2,000 went in to help build that,” said Chi Ethridge, Warriors’ athletic director. “Wrestling bought a new mat, and $1,700 went to that, so that money is used for those types of purchases.”

Big Rapids also will rely on sports boosters to help supplement the loss of funding from the Spirit of the Season fund.

“It’s not a make or break amount of money,” said Nick Schieble, Cardinals’ athletic director and foundation second vice president. “For us, we will continue to support those who can’t pay the athletic fee. We still have the scholarship to get the fee waived and sports boosters will help fund that.”

Once the fund is built back up, Chaput said the foundation might continue providing the schools with athletic fee relief, but other options might be explored.

“Our goal is to help as many people as we can,” Chaput said.  “Our group got together and decided to change our efforts and maybe save our money for a few years and put it toward something bigger. Now what we want to do, it might take a while, but we want to build enough money up to do a sport mentoring program.”

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Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

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