James Burns: Budget crisis could hurt local teams

James Burns

Scott Scambray is a sports guy. More to the point, he's a high school sports guy, which probably explains his at-all-costs adventure last Friday.

The Merced Union High Schools District superintendent ducked out of an engagement in San Diego on Friday to make Merced's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff game at Stadium '76.

Scambray felt compelled to be at the game, so...

The Supe made the necessary sacrifices.

He changed his flight plans, flew out of southern California early Friday morning and arrived in Merced with enough time to make kickoff.

A bit jet-lagged but certainly not weary from his travels, Scambray stood in a crowd near the east end zone.

He smiled.

Shook hands.

Spoke with strangers.

And at one point, he even played "If I were coach..." with pals as Merced drove inside St. Mary's red zone.

See, Scambray is a sports guy. A high school sports guy, at that.

Remember this story.

Remember Scambray's passion for the games.

File it under "Reasons why we love our administration," because I fear, when the economic ax finally drops, and the slashing begins, we'll be searching for nice things to say about the district's brass.

And what few compliments we drum up, won't come easy.

That's not a slight at Scambray or the district. That's just human nature.

As we've learned painfully in the last year, when it comes to our sagging economy and the frailty of the dollar, there are very few sacred cows in the working world.

Small businesses are disappearing almost daily, leaving many community shopping centers dark, dingy and desolate.

Big businesses are crawling on hands and knees toward Capitol Hill, begging for bailouts, and Wall Street lives in fear of falling numbers.

Eventually, that ax is going to be placed in Scambray's hands.

Some experts predict California's state budget deficit will hit an astronomical sum of $28 billion by the end of the calendar year.

The fallout means that one of California's most recognizable public entities -- education -- will have to do with less.

Districts up and down the state are bracing for massive budget cuts, and we'd be naive to think MUHSD won't be caught in the middle.

When that time comes, Scambray and those sitting around his table are going to have to make some very difficult decisions.

Decisions that will gravely impact all parts of the educational arena.

Remember that part about no sacred cows?

High school sports could be one of the first on the chopping block.

"What you typically do in situations like this, and I've been through a few budget crisises before, you try to keep it as far away from the kids as possible," Scambray said.

"My personal opinion, extracurricular activites, like sports and band, are critical to the high school experience. So that wouldn't be a road I'd want to go down -- at any time."

I'm not talking about cutting out athletics altogether. That would incite a riot that no one here in the Valley is prepared to handle.

Still, we should expect to see some changes.

The district could decide to go a number of ways with its potential cuts, but here are a few plausible scenarios to think about should sports come under the microscope:

One, cutbacks on transportation costs.

Should the district put the squeeze on funding made available to athletics, transportation will probably be the first place they start.

Simply, teams would be forced to schedule nonleague games closer to home.

The Merced football team's annual trips to places like Napa, Fresno and Los Angeles?

Fond memories.

Basketball tournaments in Reno and Sacramento?

Better fundraise.

Two, lower the amount coaches receive in stipends and/or cut back on the number of coaching stipends made available.

Salaries and wages makeup more than 80 percent of the district's budget. Need I say more?

And three, eliminate freshman sports.

While a drastic measure, for sure, cutting out freshman sports would also be cost-effective.

Think about it.

By lumping freshman and sophomore athletes together, you cut transportation, uniform and official fees by a third in each sport.

Of course, these are just hypothetical situations.

We could wake up tomorrow and find that the world is right.


Probably not.

Just remember one thing, though.

Should any of these scenarios come to fruition, should Scambray find himself holding the proverbial ax...

Nothing would pain him more.

James Burns is the sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at