Fielding a sports program in the local high schools is an expensive proposition and that's where fans come into play.

Last week, I counseled parents about stepping back and letting coaches do their jobs without outside interference.

Now, I want to remind everyone of the importance of getting out and supporting our local teams.

The support of parents, fans and members of the community is extremely important in high school sports. In many ways, that support at the grassroots level is the lifeblood of many programs.

In Lake and Sumter counties, schools have no multi-million dollar television contracts or radio deals.

There are no shoe and uniform contracts to outfit the teams.

Many playing fields, courses and courts are kept up by employees of the school district and each team’s coaching staff, rather than professional groundskeepers.

Bus trips — particularly charter buses — to and from road games have to be paid for.

Game officials have to be paid.

Fielding a sports program in the local high schools is an expensive proposition.

That’s where fans — the ticket-buying public — come into play.

Every penny spent at a football game — or any other sport for that matter — goes directly to support programs at the school.

The hot dog, nachos and soda you buy could help pay for new helmets and uniforms. Likewise, those parking fees you paid to get a spot close to the stadium might go toward helping out the cross country or bowling team.

And, of course, the money you shelled out for that game ticket could be earmarked for new equipment to replace worn out shoulder pads or to pay for upgrades in the weight room.

For those who think the money raised on game day just pads the coffers, think again. Lake County Schools doesn’t sit back and write checks to pay for whatever coaches need.

It’s not that easy.

The district simply doesn’t have that kind of money lying around. No public school district — at least, none in Florida — has pockets that deep.

In fact, in some counties, student-athletes are asked to pay a fee to play in order to offset expenses.

That’s why you drive around on weekends and see countless school-sponsored car washes.

Or why programs sell chicken dinners or rib dinners before games and on weekends.

Some schools have souvenir stands with T-shirts, caps and other items for sale.

Nearly all schools sell all-sports passes — an opportunity to see every game for all sports in a given year for a relative pittance compared to buying tickets at the gate.

At many schools, student-athletes peddle cards and coupon books offering discounts at area businesses and restaurants.

The more you spend at a local high school game means that program is that much closer to having the funds needed to pay for offseason camps, where players are further taught the nuances of the game by college coaches. Those camps might also allow student-athletes a chance to put themselves on the recruiting radar, which in turn could lead to college scholarships.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Truth be told, parents and other members of the community play a vital role in the success of local athletic programs. While many can’t help with a team’s on-field success — unless they volunteer as coaches — friends of every program contribute through their presence to every touchdown, basket, home run, and medal-winning finish.

And, especially when compared to a college game, staying home and watching the local high school team might just be the best entertainment value around.

Think about it.

For 40 bucks, a family of three can pay to park, get game tickets and buy a round of sodas and dogs, with probably a few bucks left over for the souvenir stand.

At the University of Florida, you’re not likely to get into the stadium for less than $40 — there are only a handful of games with tickets listed for less. That doesn’t take into account the price for parking somewhere on campus, grub, and the gas you’ll spend — err, waste — driving to Gainesville and idling in countless traffic jams.

So you can expect to spend close to — if not more — than $200 for an afternoon in The Swamp.

Not me.

If I want to watch the Gators, I have a big-screen television that puts me on the 50-yard line for every play, a refrigerator full of my favorite beverage, and a recliner with all the indentations in the right places.

The first football game my father ever took me to was in the 1960s between the original Ocoee and Lakeview high schools at old Walker Field in Winter Garden. Ocoee and Lakeview eventually combined to become West Orange High School in the mid-1970s, but until then they were bitter rivals.

I’ll never forget the atmosphere that night. It was absolutely electric, with fans on both sides of the field cheering on nearly every play.

For me — at the time, I was all of 8 or 9 years old — it was the greatest game I ever saw. We were so close to the field you could hear the crash of the shoulder pads and helmets, and a lot of the trash talk.

Try pulling that off at a Gators game.

Who needs Florida-Florida State when we have Leesburg and Eustis meeting on Oct. 25 for the 76th time. The Gators and Seminoles have met just 63 times since 1958, twice in bowl games.

Lake County has the rivalry in the Golden Triangle between Mount Dora, Tavares, Eustis and Umatilla, along with Lake Minneola, South Lake and East Ridge in the south end of the county.

My advice?

Go to as many games in Lake and Sumter counties as you can.

Support your teams.

Wear your colors and cheer loud.

And spend your money.

You’ll be helping to build a program for the future.

 

Frank Jolley is a sports writer for the Daily Commercial. Contact him at 352-365-8268 or frank.jolley@dailycommercial.com.