Knights fight to save program
Like Wright, that core group of players refuses to consider the possibility of giving up football at Mount Vernon, even if they have to raise the money themselves to fund the season. "We're still pushing," Wright said.
Wright, his players and the rest of the coaches and athletes at the school must raise the money because Mount Vernon voters -- unhappy with the school district's fiscal management and unconvinced that higher taxes would solve the problem -- struck down two school budget proposals. That forced the school to adopt an austerity budget in late June that eliminated funding for athletics. To keep Mount Vernon's entire sports program intact for all of 2008-09, the group must raise $950,000. The situation at Mount Vernon is extreme, but it is not unique; throughout the nation,
Wright and the other coaches set a goal of $300,000 by Sunday to fund all fall sports at the varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels. As of Monday, they had raised $91,000, according to
Wright believes the athletes, who raised more than $19,000 during a weekend last month by standing on street corners and soliciting money from passing motorists, will play this season, but they may all have to play at the varsity level. The district can't commit to spending money on the hope that it might come in, Wright said.
"It's going to hurt," Wright said. "But the reality is that we're in crisis mode. We can't take for granted the money is going to be there. You can't start spending like you have it."
Still, the football, cross country, volleyball and other fall sports teams will prepare to play. Wright said football practice begins Aug. 20, and he intends to be there with his whistle. "We feel confident that we're going to have a varsity season," Wright said. "It's not guaranteed, but we're pretty positive about that."
Wright's players are more than positive. "We're playing," Mount Vernon lineman
Mount Vernon's athletic alumni association will hold a fundraising dinner Friday, two days prior to the deadline. After Sunday, fundraising will continue to help salvage winter and spring sports. That, of course, includes Mount Vernon's boys basketball team, which has won four New York public school state titles in the past eight years. And while Coach
Chicago Bulls star
Still, Gordon's fundraiser could come too late to save an important piece of the school's athletic program. That's why Mount Vernon coaches, athletes and community leaders will spend the rest of the week trying to raise more money before the whistle sounds Sunday.