In 2010, funding for middle school sports in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was cut as lawmakers struggled with budgeting during a recession.
For two consecutive years, big-name donors stepped up. In 2010, basketball star Michael Jordan gave $250,000 to save middle school sports, and in 2011, Hendrick Automotive Group provided a $250,000 sponsorship.
State funding was never reinstated, and the work of many, smaller partnerships has helped keep middle school sports afloat the past few years. One of those is the Big South 5K Road Race, an annual event that allows runners to donate their race fees to individual middle schools.
“Every partnership that we have, large and small, goes a long way to helping us fund middle school athletics,” said Sue Doran, CMS director of athletics. “A lot of a little adds up to a lot.”
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Since 2010, middle schools in CMS have maintained the sports that they offer, which include football, golf and volleyball.
This year, the Big South 5K on Oct. 17 is expected to break the $100,000 mark in total money raised since its inaugural race five years ago.
The Big South 5K Road Race was founded as discussion in the news focused on the possible elimination of middle school sports in CMS, said Mark Simpson, Big South Conference assistant commissioner for public relations. To save middle school sports, a $50 participation fee per middle school sport was instituted, and a $1 surcharge was added to high school regular season ticket sales.
Every partnership that we have, large and small, goes a long way to helping us fund middle school athletics.
Sue Doran, CMS director of athletics
The schools also looked for community partners. The Big South Conference, which is headquartered on Pineville-Matthews Road and includes schools such as Campbell University, Winthrop University and UNC Asheville, organized its road race in response.
The conference cannot work with high school athletes, but conference leaders felt it was worthwhile to invest in younger athletes and promote healthy activities, said Chad Cook, assistant commissioner for the Big South Conference.
“We felt like it made a lot of sense with what we do and would support those kids who are getting involved in sports and maybe one day will compete in college athletics,” Cook said.
Typically, between 1,000 and 1,300 runners and walkers participate in the Big South 5K, which is run on a competitive, certified course in Blakeney. The event raises between $15,000 and $20,000 a year, Simpson said.
Each runner can select a middle school when they register, and at least $20 of the registration fee goes to athletics at that school. The fee ranges between $20 and $30 depending on when the runner registers.
Fees that aren’t directed toward a particular school are divided between district sports departments in Charlotte, Union County and Fort Mill.
J.M. Robinson Middle School in South Charlotte has received about $7,000 from the Big South 5K since it started in 2010, Jennifer Bean, fundraising chairwoman and past president of the school’s Athletic Booster Club, wrote in an email.
The money from the Big South 5K goes directly to the school’s athletic programs, Bean said.
In the past five years, the J.M. Robinson Athletic Booster Club has bought uniforms for several sports teams, new football helmets, a new mat for the school’s track and a wind screen for the baseball field, Bean said.
“There are lots of ‘little things’ that are funded as well like field maintenance, necessary equipment such as baseballs, softballs and basketballs, and end-of-season athletic awards,” Bean wrote in an email.
While many participants in the Big South 5K attend schools in the Ballantyne area, runners can direct their fees to other schools. Randolph Middle School, for example, is in Cotswold and had more than 80 runners sign up on its behalf in a recent Big South 5K, Cook said.
Runners also can form teams of at least five athletes, and the top three running times are counted toward team awards.
Doran said that middle school sports benefit students’ high school sports participation and teaches them skills they will use their whole lives.
“They learn perseverance, hard work, how to get along with people, how to handle success and failure and how to be a teammate,” she said. “I think there are very few people who would not recognize that participation in athletics does much to help develop qualities that (students) carry forward into their adult lives.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to run?
To register for the Big South 5K Road Race and for more information about connecting middle schools with the race, visit http://bigsouth5k.com. On-site registration also is available the day of the race.
The race begins at 8 a.m. Oct. 17 at Blakeney Shopping Center.
“Phantom runners” can pay the registration fee, support a middle school and receive an official race T-shirt instead of running.