The Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team cuts firewood for a team fundraiser Out The Road in 2000. (Courtesy Photo | Gary Lehnhart)

The Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team cuts firewood for a team fundraiser Out The Road in 2000. (Courtesy Photo | Gary Lehnhart)

Thinking outside the raffle ticket: How Juneau sports teams get by with less school district dollars

Thinking outside the raffle ticket: How Juneau sports teams get by

A cut in the Juneau School District’s activities budget made Arnold Ibias’ business acumen all the more vital.

Ibias, a former high school volleyball coach who owns an office equipment supply store, ordered a T-shirt press for his Thunder Mountain team, so students and parents could sell customized tournament apparel at track meets and basketball tournaments.

That helped the Falcons stay out of debt after the school district cut activities funding four years ago in the wake of dwindling state budgets. The activities budget comprises everything from coaches’ salaries, equipment, travel and lodging for both sports and activities from all 13 schools in the district.

“Once they started taking the travel money away, it was like, ‘We need to ramp this up,’” said Ibias, who was on the Falcons coaching staff from 2009-2017.

TMHS volleyball wasn’t the only local team that upped its fundraising in response to budget cuts. After contributing over $800,000 to the activities budget in Fiscal Year 2015, the school district cut all funding the following and subsequent years.

Since then, the onus has been shifted more on student-athletes themselves to raise money to play sports.

From Fiscal Year 2015 to Fiscal Year 2019, students involved in Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé and TMHS activities increased their fundraising by over 6% — from $1.16 million to $1.24 million. The activites budget in Fiscal Year 2015 was $2.78 million, while the approved activities budget in Fiscal Year 2019 was $3.28 million.

The city has also increased its funding for activities to help support team sports and other programs. The City and Borough of Juneau’s funding for all JSD activities has increased six-fold over the last four years — from $172,000 to $1.08 million.

“One the critical pieces is that CBJ has really committed to supporting activities,” JSD Superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss said. “Without them, it would be a bigger impact and so that is super important.”

The Assembly Finance Committee approved the school district’s request of an extra $440,000 for student activities last May.

A bulk of the activities budget goes toward travel and lodging expenses, anywhere between $607,000 to $830,000 per year. The bulk of travel expenses are spent on airline tickets. ASAA Region V President Jaime Cabral said Southeast school districts spent $1.9 million in one year traveling with Alaska Airlines, according to the Petersburg Pilot. And that number could rise with a reduced ferry service.

[Opinion: Reduced ferry schedules matter of ‘health, life and public safety’]

“The cutting of the ferry system is going to really be impacting the Southeast sports and activities,” TMHS boys basketball coach John Blasco said. “Ketchikan has to fly to Juneau twice to play us — both ways, no ferry — with 30-plus kids. I don’t know about (Juneau-Douglas’) schedule but our trip to Ketchikan does not work with the ferry system so we’re going to have to fly both ways with about 40 kids and coaches. That’s about a $12,000 trip when you total up all those tickets.”

Going beyond raffle tickets

In light of budgeting uncertainty, many sports teams began to rethink how they approach fundraising.

“People are willing to buy raffle tickets and stuff, but people now are starting to be like, ‘What am I going to get out of this?’” Ibias, owner of TBG Office Solutions, said.

The former coach bought the T-shirt press some years ago and now is the Falcons’ single largest fundraiser.

“As far I’m concerned, (you) don’t even look at fundraiser unless you’re going to make $1,000,” Ibias said. “Doing these $500 ones, these $300 ones, it’s like, ‘Why are we doing that?’ (You must) use your time wisely.”

Blasco has taken a similarly proactive approach.

“The community is not growing and we’re all fighting for the same dollars just to be spread out among more programs. You got to stay creative,” he said. “My thing is I work with the business community to try and make sure there’s a positive reward for them and not just a handout to the kids and the program.”

That’s where over 3,000 pounds of cookie dough comes in.

The Falcons boys basketball team orders over a ton of the sugary treat every season from a large Seattle cookie manufacturer and then make the rounds selling tubs to family, friends, neighbors, etc. Blasco, whose team gets a cut of the sales, said the cookie dough helps ensure money doesn’t keep a student from playing.

“We try very hard to make it so every kid has the opportunity to participate and hopefully get to go on one trip,” Blasco said. “We provide them with as many fundraising opportunities as possible so that there’s the opportunity that there’s no out-of-pocket expense to them.”

On Friday night, the Falcons prepared for another big fundraiser, unloading used clothes, books, furniture, decorations and other goods into the TMHS commons for a community garage sale on Saturday.

TMHS senior forward Braden Jenkins said he actually looks forward to the event.

“There’s some cool stuff that comes in,” Jenkins said before school on Friday. “It’s better than selling raffle tickets. (Coach Blasco) does a great job of finding different ways of fundraising because everybody does raffle tickets here.”

Raffle ticket sales are one part of the JDHS boys soccer’s program, but it’s only one of the team’s many fundraisers. The Crimson Bears soccer programs rely heavily on ad sales in their program, which last year featured over 150 different advertisements.

“I can’t say enough about the businesses in this community and how much they support athletics,” JDHS boys soccer coach Gary Lehnhart said. “Without them, we’d be doomed.”

With a player fee of $750, Lehnhart gives his players ample fundraising opportunities.

“We try to find ways to augment the player fee for some of the players, scholarships and things like that,” Lehnhart said. “But there’s no question that I’m sure that there are kids that look at this and go, ‘This is just too much, I’m not even going to try,’ and they give up.”

In the last few years, the school district has also started to rack up airline miles through the use of its purchasing credit cards. This year the district awarded each high school with 750,000 miles, Weiss said.

“Certainly, when we look forward to at some point cycling out of this budget crisis state that we’ve been in now so consistently in the last four, five years … we can return to closer to the structure that we had before,” Weiss said.

Until then, the hustle for activity dollars will continue.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or

Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball players and parents sort through items prior to the team’s community garage sale last year at TMHS. The event is one of the ways the program raises money for the season. (Courtesy Photo | John Blasco)

Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball players and parents sort through items prior to the team’s community garage sale last year at TMHS. The event is one of the ways the program raises money for the season. (Courtesy Photo | John Blasco)

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