Schools turn to sponsors to help pay bills

Schools like Center Grove are turning to sponsorships to help fund extracurricular activities.

It's a sign of the times for high school athletic programs - corporate sponsors at stadiums, just like the pros.

Property tax caps are causing more schools to look for big donors in new ways. To drum up money for high school sports, sponsorship is becoming a trend. The ads bring in cash to keep up facilities.

"I think it's a win-win for everybody. Anytime you can bring money in that the parents don't have to do it, and the school benefits from it, it's awesome," said Center Grove parent Cathy Shiley.

At Center Grove High School, the signs are hard to miss. Local stores and restaurants advertise on the new digital video scoreboard. Ray Skillman's name is featured prominently on the side of the stadium.

"He generously donated $200,000 a year for the next five years for us and that's going to help our parents out, because now they don't have to pay to play in the next five years," explained Center Grove's Athletic Director Jon Zwitt.

It's not just the stadium and the scoreboard. Center Grove is also hoping someone will sponsor the field turf itself. That would pay for maintenance and, eventually, new turf.

"It's kind of like Purdue does," Zwitt said. "They've got Mackey Arena, but they've got Gene Keady floor. Because this (turf) is ten years old, we're getting to that point where we're going to have to redo it."

Center Grove isn't alone. Noblesville and Franklin have corporate sponsorship and now, Clark-Pleasant Schools are trying it, too. Johnson Memorial Hospital banners are just the first step at Whiteland Community High School. The athletic director's vision is to raise three million dollars from advertisements to pay for buildings, bleachers, a new track and turf.

"We don't really have money to spend on facilities," said Clark-Pleasant Interim Superintendent Dr. Becky Courtney-Knight. "We don't want to try to have a bond. We don't want to ask the taxpayers for more. We don't want to ask kids to have to pay to play sports. So trying to be creative is a good way to go."

School leaders say property tax caps created the need for more cash. They say ads could be used for band and arts programs too.

Most parents don't view it as selling out. They call it a community investment in their children.

"All the money goes back to the kids and that's what we want, ultimately," Shiley said.

In Whiteland, sponsorship dollars will be managed by a newly-formed Education Foundation. Individuals and businesses who donate will get banners put up on stadiums, scoreboards and bleachers. Their size and location depend on the amount of the gift.