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County ADs have attendance worries over break

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At the high end, Al Cooper could have a $10 thousand weekend. At the low end … well, Cooper isn’t sure how poor he might make out fiscally.

Monday marked the beginning of a two-week fall vacation for all of the Hancock County schools; this is the first school year Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine have adopted the “balanced calendar” approach to education, which is highlighted by a shorter summer break and longer vacations in the fall and spring.

Although child care has been a challenge for some parents of the younger kids, high school students, teachers and administrators seem to be enjoying the extra-long autumn respite, which was capped at two or three days on the traditional calendar.

The only concern for Cooper, New Palestine’s athletic director, is how the school intermission might affect sports event attendance.

The Dragons will host Mt. Vernon on Friday in the final regular season football game. Across the county, Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock will host volleyball sectionals next week. Mt. Vernon has a soccer regional today. The Cougars and Royals also have football games at home Friday.

Some fans and parents who normally attend games are using the two-week school vacation to take trips out of town. For the supporters and student-athletes remaining at home, there’s little opportunity for administrators to encourage and remind kids to attend the games, since they’re not in school each day.

“I think it will affect it, but don’t know to what degree,” Cooper said of the fall break and possible attendance issues Friday night. “Being Mt. Vernon, that’s always a rivalry, obviously. But, Mt. Vernon is out of school, too.

“I’m anxious to see the turnout.”

Kevin Horrigan is also taking a wait-and-see approach. The Greenfield-Central athletic director is excited to host the volleyball sectional; it’s the first such sectional at G-C in several years.

Working in Horrigan’s favor: Most of the other schools feeding into the volleyball sectional are on a traditional calendar and still in school. So, Horrigan’s priority has been to make sure the G-C fans show up in support of the home team.

“For the past two weeks leading up to vacation, we have been making announcements, doing TV and radio spots, putting signs up around school, etc., about all of the athletic and band activities going on over break,” he said. “Hopefully people have been paying attention to that.”

Alex Colclazier will, without a doubt, be at the volleyball sectional. She is Greenfield-Central’s starting libero. The senior is also going to make it a point to attend the Cougars’ football game against Pendleton Heights Friday.

“Just to support them, because we want the support back,” she said. “And we’ve gotten a lot of support this year, especially from the football team, as well, and we want to give it back to them.”

While students such as Colclazier don’t see as many of their peers on an everyday basis with school out of session, Colclazier thinks social media can help fill the information void to make sure everyone doesn’t forget to support the sports teams. 

Still, Colclazier expects a slight decline in G-C attendance when the Cougars take on Richmond in the volleyball sectional next Thursday.

“I don’t think there will be as many (people), but I think just through Facebook and Twitter … I’m not too concerned,” she said.

“We also have to know that we can pump each other up, even if they don’t come.”

Aaron Britt also believes that word of mouth will be enough to ensure a positive turnout. The Mt. Vernon soccer coach will be on the sideline tonight when the Marauders host Southport in the boys’ regional semifinals. If Mt. Vernon wins, it will play in the championship Saturday, also at Mt. Vernon.

“My guess is that we will have a pretty good turnout, since we are home and football and others will be around still,” said Britt, noting that athletes in sports that remain in season, such as football, aren’t out of town on vacation.

At stake for the sports teams is vocal support. For the school itself, there is also the financial equation.

Indiana high school athletic departments are primarily self-reliant — the proceeds received from game admissions, concessions, participation fees and fundraising are used to pay for equipment, uniforms, officials and entry fees, as well as coach salaries, depending on the district. In Hancock County, athletic departments also fund their own transportation costs. School corporations are generally responsible for major facility upgrades.

Horrigan explained that, “Indiana is one of three states in the country that athletics are self-funded. When I first became an athletic director, I was not sure this was a great way to do things, especially since in 47 other states, athletics was funded by tax dollars and school board appropriations. However, over time I am convinced it is the way to go. We basically make or break ourselves by what we take in and how we spend it.”

Cooper, in his second year as the Dragons’ athletic director, said the most money the department has taken in during a football game was nearly $9,000 for last season’s home opener against Whiteland. New Palestine was on the road in 2011 for its county rivalry games against Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon.

“Visitors’ attendance is critical to having great gates,” Cooper said. “Last year with Whiteland, the entire visitors’ bleachers were packed.”

New Palestine, like many area athletic departments, missed out on a decent amount of money when lightning and bad weather caused havoc with several weeks of the football regular season. Eastern Hancock, for example, was a host school for Friday night football in Weeks 4 and 6, but fans were reluctant to head out into a storm, and many had prior plans for the following Saturdays, when the postponed games were played.

The Dragons’ game against Greenfield-Central Friday (Week 7) wasn’t delayed by rain, but the cold, constant downpour didn’t do much to put butts in the seats.

“That was our homecoming,” Cooper noted. “And with the games we’ve had affected by weather, we’re probably down $6,000 at this point just in gate revenue.”

He hopes the fall break doesn’t make another dent in the Dragons’ pocketbook.

“We knew when we went to a balance calendar that it would have an effect,” Cooper said. “To what degree is still to be determined.”

The scoreboard won’t be the only numbers Cooper and other athletic officials will be paying attention to the next several days.

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