Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Baseball safe? Former NFL player offers to fund half of sport, if district matches

Cutline: Greenville-Weston High senior baseball players pose after their last home game of the 2010 season.

GREENVILLE – “Change starts with one person.”
One Greenville native and former NFL receiver hopes that he can successfully put that popular quote to the test.
Cleo Montgomery, who played six seasons for three NFL teams beginning in 1980, says he wants to help revive the high school baseball program, which was recently suspended by the Greenville Public School District.
But it can’t be a one-way street, said the Abilene Christian University alum.
“I can assist, but (the school district) has to meet me halfway,” Montgomery said of the GPSD’s estimated $23,000 baseball budget. “I’ll put up half of what it takes to run the (baseball) program. But (the district) has to show me how much they want it, too.”
Montgomery also said he has thought of ideas to continuously keep the program going without his help in the future. Weekend school dances was one avenue worth exploring, he said.
Superintendent Dr. Harvey Franklin would not confirm nor deny Montgomery’s offer, but said the district is looking at soliciting “different vendors and alumni” for support. A public “presentation” regarding the issue will also be scheduled in July, he said.
Franklin would not specify on the exact date.
The GPSD recently suspended baseball, slow-pitch softball, tennis, golf, soccer and power-lifting due to a $163,000 cut in the athletic budget.
Montgomery also offered ideas to make it easier on the district, by allowing assistant baseball coaches to drive to away games, saving the district roughly $3,000.
The $23,000 baseball budget, which includes all costs including the salaries for a head coach and two assistant coaches, also contains a meal stipend of $8 per player. Another way to slice costs would be if parents footed the bill for fast-food on the way back from away games.
“It would only take about $4,” said Montgomery. Players are allowed meals when they travel at least 35 miles away.
Matching the district’s funds would be a short-term fix, Montgomery said. In order to get things going for the long haul, the football stadium needs to be packed on Friday nights.
“The focus needs to be on football; that’s the money-making sport,” Montgomery explained. “We have to fill the stands. That can take care of baseball.”
Baseball legend and Greenville great George Scott echoed Montgomery’s statement.
“If you can fill the seats at five or six football games a year and fill up the gym (for basketball games), that will take care of other athletic programs.”
Recently, the Jackson Clarion Ledger reported that the Jackson Public School District sliced its athletic budget by nearly 60 percent, lowering the original $700,000 total to 300,000.
Bennie Tillman, a former GWHS assistant football coach from 2002-04 and current Callaway High employee, said athletics play an important role, just as academics.
“The school systems in a lot of districts, same here in Jackson, overemphasize academics. Academics has its place, and so does athletics,” said Tillman, who was Callaway’s head football coach before Daryl Jones took over in 2009.
“The kids are getting blamed for adults mismanagement of funds. And they're denying kids the opportunity for development.”
As for Montgomery, he thinks if the ban stays in place, Greenville athletes will have to pay a huge price in the long run.
“The district would be stopping 5-7 kids from getting scholarships,” he said. “They’ll take that away from them.”

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