CIAC to explore new rules for booster clubs

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The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference plans to consider new regulations for the booster clubs that raise money for athletics and activities at local schools following an incident in Naugatuck in which the football booster club president gave $1,000 to the struggling mother of two football players intending a transfer to Naugatuck High School, unaware that he was committing multiple recruiting violations.

“There have always been concerns about equity,” Executive Director Karissa Niehoff said. “Some booster clubs wield tremendous power in their districts and towns, whereas other sports don’t have strong support.”

The CIAC makes recommendations to athletic directors concerning booster clubs, pushing for financial transparency and a system that does not heavily fund some sports and programs while ignoring the needs of others. But those recommendations are suggestions without teeth, Niehoff said.

The board has not yet formally discussed crafting enforceable rules, but Niehoff said she expects those conversations to begin by the November monthly meeting.

The CIAC could consider requiring schools to have a booster club for all athletics, instead of several that focus on individual sports. It could also require all clubs to operate through their affiliated schools, under the direction of district business staff, to increase accountability and prevent mistakes. It could also prevent booster clubs from giving to individual students, with the exception of scholarship programs, or from sending students to outside camps.

If regulations are enacted, they could apply to any group the school designates as an affiliated booster club, and the CIAC could train club officials in the rules the same way it trains athletic directors and coaches, Niehoff said.

Following legal recommendations, officers of the Naugatuck Football Alumni Association will be required to attend seasonal training sessions and will account for income and expenses in a central treasury account maintained by the school principal, said Franklin Johnson, the co-founder and acting director of the football alumni association.

“We would like to think we can continue to help, and we would help under any guidelines they ask us to comply with,” Johnson said.

The club does not have a board, was never incorporated and Johnson declined to say how much money it has raised.

The group has helped buy equipment for the football team, paid Pop Warner fees for children who could not otherwise afford them and has also donated to police officers battling cancer, Johnson said.

Seymour’s group, the Wildcat Kickoff Club, is incorporated as a nonprofit and raised about $15,000 last year for the football program, President Ingrid Conlan said.

The money buys T-shirts and shorts, after-game meals, parties and equipment. Every year, the booster club sends seniors to events hosted by the Walter Camp Football Foundation at Yale University. The club has a charter and bylaws that prohibit it from giving money to individual players, but the principal and athletic director do not have any say in how it spends its money.

“Personally, I would keep it separate, because we really have nothing to do with the school, and we need to keep those clear lines between what the school is and what the club is,” Conlan said.

The Torrington High School Scholastic Athletic Booster Club supports all athletic programs at the school through season ticket sales and concessions at winter basketball games.

The club raised more than $6,000 last year and also pays for uniforms, equipment, dinners and awards ceremonies, said Pat Fairchild, club president. Members do not make purchases without the athletic director’s approval, but there is no formal requirement that anyone from the school look over the group’s finances, Fairchild said. Some sports also have parent groups that could be raising more money than the booster club, Fairchild said.

Fairchild said she was not sure how her group would react to mandatory training sessions.

“If it got to be something that was a little too much, I think our group would disband, because it’s just so informal,” she said.

Chris Sarlo, football coach at Kennedy High School in Waterbury, runs his team’s booster club and said it is perhaps not succeeding for that reason. His duties as football coach prevent him from devoting much time to the Eagles Endzone Club, which stopped raising much money after the recession hit. Parents and alumni have not taken on the responsibility, Sarlo said.

“There’s got to be a way that we can finance our own program,” Sarlo said. “That’s the way it should be done.”

The Oxford High School Booster Club began to form before the school opened five years ago and raises money for every sport, arts group or other club associated with the school. The principal, athletic director and fine arts chairman are all board members, said President Cathy Prowe.

The club, an incorporated nonprofit, has already implemented some of the practices the CIAC might consider for all booster clubs. School teams and groups have their own line items in the booster club’s account, where they can deposit money earned from individual fundraisers. Prowe said the booster club coordinates fundraising activities for every team and group so they are all successful.

“There’s one overseeing body,” Prowe said. “If you have 12 different booster clubs and they all want to fundraise at the same time and they’re all doing a car wash, then there’s a lot of overlap.”