HORSESHOE BEND — An anonymous phone call came into the main office at Horseshoe Bend High last Thursday.
The man, who said he lived in nearby Gem County, told Athletic Director Dennis Chesnut that he would match any donations up to $5,000 that the school could raise in one week.
The school raised $5,072 from local businesses and by collecting donations from drivers on Highway 55 as they passed by on a Labor Day weekend.
The money will be used to help pay transportation costs for its athletic teams.
After two failed levies, the Horseshoe Bend School District was forced to cut $20,000 from its 2012-13 athletic budget, and the entire transportation budget for high school sports, which comes to about $10,000 for the regular season, Superintendent Vickie Renfro said.
Without bus transportation, athletes would be forced to get to and from games on their own.
Safety worries attracted many people to the cause from the start. Now, many more have stepped forward to make sure the opportunity to compete doesn’t disappear for the small town.
“People see the importance of athletics in a small community and they also see the difficulty that a small school has in holding to a balanced budget,” Renfro said.
BURDEN FALLS TO FAMILIES
To help offset the cuts, the school district raised pay-to-play fees at the high school from $90 per year to $180.
That fee, in conjunction with the prospect of having to arrange for transportation, caused some families to make a difficult choice.
“I lost a couple of girls that chose not to play, not just because of the money, but because of the commitment you are asking parents to give,” volleyball coach Shelby Miller said. “If we have to drive to Salmon River on a Thursday night for a game and don’t get back home until midnight, that’s hard. We don’t have school on Fridays here in town, but most parents have a job they have to get up and go to.”
COACHES TAKE ACTION
Miller usually spends the preseason working with her athletes and fine-tuning her lineup.
This year, she had to let her assistant coach go and took a 50 percent pay cut. She put her assistant’s $600 salary toward her team’s transportation for away games and has been working extra on fundraisers.
“We are working away, but it’s almost taking the goal from getting to go coach and play volleyball to where it’s sink or swim,’’ Miller said. “We are trying to save the program almost at this point.’’
Miller and her players raised funds by hosting a summer tournament, gathering pledges for a serve-a-thon and working at local events. The team’s first bus trip to New Meadows cost approximately $215. The Mustangs have at least six more away games during the regular season.
“Right now I have a bus for at least the remainder of our games this month,” Miller said. “But we are waiting to see how much more (of the money raised) we will get. We want to make sure that come track season, they are still getting the same amount that fall sports did.”
Normally, the Mustangs would be ecstatic about making the state tournament, but that very real possibility — they did not lose a starter from last year’s state-qualifying team — has lost some of its luster because the team will have to consider how to pay for the trip.
“State is super, super expensive. I don’t know how much they spent on it last year, maybe thousands of dollars,” said senior setter Sierra Riley, who works part-time at Sonor Mexican Restaurant on the main road in Horseshoe Bend to help pay for her athletic fees and equipment. “Now that’s got to come out of our pockets. A lot of us don’t have the money to spend on that, myself included.”
Coaches are pinching pennies any way they can. Miller and football coach Jesse Goff have arranged for their teams to share a bus to games at the same location.
Both teams participated in Monday’s fundraiser, and the football team moved rocks and cleared out irrigation ditches for a local resident in August. Cross country athletes use a donated van to get to and from meets.
The booster club has organized a barbecue beef dinner before the football team’s first home game Sept. 14.
“I can only ask parents for so much more money,” Miller said.
When Stan Rau learned his son — starting quarterback Skylar Rau — would have to find his own transportation to and from games, he took action.
The elder Rau raised about $1,400 on his own by calling family and friends. He then rallied players and coaches to “fill the boot” — like firefighters do each year. Members of the fall sports programs stood along Highway 55 in Horseshoe Bend for three hours Monday before being shut down by police.
In that short time, the school received nearly $3,000 from people passing through town.
“It was nice to see that people actually want to come out and support us. They know what we are going through and want to help us,” running back Michael Robison said.
Said sophomore volleyball player Nikael Miller: “It’s great because we are such a little town. You don’t really think anybody is going to hear about it or care all that much. But everybody has been really super supportive.”
That includes Horseshoe Bend residents Lillie Crawford, Melanie Flake and Malissa Meyer, who joined the cause by starting the Race 2 the Summit half marathon, which is Sept. 29. All funds raised from the event will go toward the Horseshoe Bend School District.
Money for more than half of the school’s $10,000 transportation costs has been raised. Finally, coaches and athletes are starting to put focus back on the sports they love.
“I think it’s great that there are still people out there that will do a good deed even though it’s not directly going to affect them,” Shelby Miller said. “… It makes our community proud and it makes our athletes happy that somebody is willing to go above and beyond to help them.”
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422,Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX