Hard Lesson

Greg Dawson laments the need for team sports outside Publix—students raising money so they can keep their sports groups alive.

I’ve never been to a Boone High School sports event. My kids did not attend Boone, and yet over the years I’ve met dozens of Boone athletes from nearly every varsity sport as well as members of the band, chorus, dance team and the yearbook staff.

This is because I shop at the Publix near Orange Avenue and Michigan Street. On any given Saturday or Sunday during the school year you will find students in orange-and-white Boone gear standing at the entrance clashing with the store colors and holding plastic buckets for donations.

They are invariably polite, cheerful and well-spoken. And I always toss in a few bucks because I know they need the money. Their teams, clubs and activities receive insufficient public funding or none at all in the case of “club” sports such as crew and the Bravettes, who dance at football and basketball games, school assemblies and pep rallies.

The Boone kids have become fixtures at my Publix, like the marble lions flanking the steps of the New York City Public Library. And that’s the problem. We’ve become so accustomed to the sight that we don’t see—or want to admit—there’s something wrong with this picture. 

I’ll let Tamyra Cook say the word for what the picture shows. I met her at Publix a week before the start of school. Cook was sitting in the shade keeping an eye on her daughter, Mackenzie, and three other Bravettes, in uniform, holding buckets. For three hours. Cook has been here, done this. Mackenzie’s sister, Tyler, a 2014 grad, also danced for the Bravettes.

“I’ve put in a lot of sidewalk time in seven years,” Cook said. “Publix calls it that—‘sidewalk time.’ I call it begging.”

So it’s come to this—stingy lawmakers in Tallahassee turning our kids into year-round sidewalk Santas. Disturbing. But not really surprising in a state that consistently ranks near the bottom in per-student funding.

It wasn’t like this when Cook, a 1982 Boone grad, played volleyball and softball for the Braves. She made no Publix appearances. “I think we had to do a carwash every now and then. Times have changed. We’ve seen a culture change to where parents are responsible for more things.”

It wasn’t like this in the late ’90s when Dusty Johns was playing basketball for Westwood High in Fort Pierce. “I don’t remember standing in front of a Publix,” said Johns, now in his first year as Boone principal. “I think we had some candy sales, and one time we shot free throws for donations.”

Johns measures his words carefully when asked about current funding for education. “It’s safe to say it’s under what’s adequate and appropriate.” What would happen to Boone sports programs if sidewalk-time revenue vanished?

“We would be able to operate but not at the level we do now. It would be bare bones,” Johns said. “We might not be able to travel to holiday tournaments. We’d struggle to get to district and state tournaments. We want to expose the kids to opportunities. A lot of them want to play at the next level, and we don’t want the kids at Dr. Phillips to have more exposure to scouts.”

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, members of Boone crew—boys and girls teams—took up positions outside Publix next to a tall, flapping “Boone Crew” banner and a yard sign reading “We Accept Donations.”

I watched as Giselle Castro, a junior, smiled at customers entering the store.

“I like your hair!” said an older guy. 

But not enough to donate.

In my informal survey over two days, about half the people donated, and the rest avoided eye contact or were experts at giving the bogus excuse (“I don’t have any change”) or the empty promise (“I’ll get you on the way out”).

I asked Castro what she would be doing now if she weren’t doing this. “Probably staying at home doing homework,” she said.

After a while, Kurt Calabretta, a senior, showed up to relieve Castro. I asked what he would be doing if he weren’t standing outside Publix. It turned out he had just been doing it.

“We were working on a school project on literature,” he said, hurriedly putting on a Boone jersey. “It was a poster comparing Gatsby to Madame Bovary. I had to leave early to get here.”

A shopper in his 30s strolled up. “Do you take dollar coins?” 

Yes, of course. Beggars can’t be choosers. 

Categories: Column