MOREHEAD CITY — Fundraising is just one more challenge facing athletic programs in a school year affected by COVID-19.
The questions facing student-athletes and their parents, school personnel and potential donors are innumerable and without any real solid answers. But the programs must go on, and for that they need money.
“I think we’re going to have a season,” East Carteret Athletic Director Daniel Griffee said. “The strange thing is, making sure the people who donate get the most bang for their buck. Our sponsors and donors are so good about it. They understand. They’re not out for themselves. They’re trying to help the schools and the programs and not putting the emphasis on themselves.”
For the most part, individual sports for all three county high schools are holding their own fundraising events. West Carteret just held a raffle fundraiser with a goal of $25,000 and raised just under $5,000, but the school’s primary booster event, the Captain’s Mess, was not held as usual near the start of the school year due to coronavirus restrictions. East has also not held its annual Mariner’s Feast event.
“We’re waiting to see what the governor’s parameters are for later this year,” Griffee said. “We’re going to have less time and space than ever before, so it’ll be a challenge.”
At Croatan, athletic director Dave Boal says funding is fine for now, but the flow of new cash has slowed.
“We don’t have a lot of money coming in, and people aren’t looking to spend a lot right now,” Boal said. “We’re not pushing right now because there’s just too much uncertainty. I waited until the last minute to purchase a Hudl subscription, and that was only because some kids wanted to put together highlight tapes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bought it until I knew we were going to play.”
There may be more than one camera trained on the action this season. The schools have moved forward with procuring live-casting equipment in the likelihood that fans, or at least most of them, will not be able to attend games.
“Fans might not physically be able to come to a game, but we’ll have a game camera system so people can watch from home,” Griffee said. “There’s ways we’re going to use our donors’ sponsorship and get their names out there as much as we can. You can put a business’ logo on the game screen for the duration of a game, so it could end up being seen by more people than in the past.”
For Boal, the incentive to implement a live feed of games goes beyond restrictions necessitated by the pandemic.
“I’m not doing that because of COVID,” he said. “I’m doing that because we live between two military bases, and we have fans and parents and players who live all over the country. It’s a no-brainer.”
The threat of not allowing fans or allowing limited crowds to high school games has resulted in a rush on parent jobs, as well. Helping the chain gang on the football field, manning the scoreboard for basketball games or serving as a team manager gives access that might not otherwise be permitted this year.
There will be other changes, too. If fans are allowed to come watch, certain concession items won’t be available. Locker rooms will be locked down, and managing logistics between multiple sports using the same facility multiple times a week will be a headache. How programs come out on the other side budget-wise is still a mystery.
“We still have things to pay for,” Griffee said. “We won’t be able to answer some of these questions until the end of the year when we’ve paid for everything and everything else is settled.”
A closer look at those logistics has Boal and Griffee concerned about the who, where and when of it all. Add to that, how does COVID-19 affect a student-athlete who plays multiple sports and is exposed to multiple teams that play in parallel seasons or abut.
Said Griffee: “I don’t want to cause another team to get shut down because one of my players who doesn’t play until February, tested positive, and then because the two teams practice in the same facility, that causes the volleyball team to be shut down for a period of time.”
Once the season starts, the state will look to identify clusters that could potentially pop up. Public prep school sports have not taken place since the second week of March when the novel coronavirus first came to light. A cluster of cases in high-population counties such as Mecklenburg and Wake could result in a shutdown statewide for the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
“All I can do is worry about East Carteret,” Griffee said. “We’re going to follow the protocols and give ourselves the best chance to finish the season.”
Coaches and players are already grateful to even start a season that was cast in doubt for months. Fall practices have started across the county, with the first volleyball matches and cross country meets only five weeks away.
“They’re excited to be around each other again., and they the need that social interaction,” Boal said. “They’re not getting in school like you might think. They want some normalcy, and so do we. The kids are the energy in the building that teachers need, and it’s hard right now. Being out there, even if it’s just for practice, is a help.”
(Editor’s note: In this article, we took in-depth looks at East Carteret and Croatan, but not West Carteret. Repeated efforts to contact West Athletic Director Michael Turner were unsuccessful.)