Gilbert Christian has fewer than 200 students on its campus, but its state-of-the-art facilities are more in tune with a Division I college than a small high school.
The school’s synthetic turf football field is professional grade, and the pregame light show during the basketball team’s starting lineup introductions is a one-of-a-kind experience.
These luxuries are possible largely because of the generosity of one well-to-do donor, and it gives the school a leg-up in becoming the East Valley’s premiere private school destination.
On Tuesday night, however, the other side of the booster issue came up. According to
Gilbert Christian boys basketball coach Steve Currier, the prominent donor — whom he didn’t want to name — and other parents with financial ties to the school wanted him out for coaching too negatively.
Currier said he was summoned to a meeting with the donor, superintendent Jim Desmarchais, three school board members and the donor’s legal represenatitive before being asked to either agree to a suspension or take a sabbatical.
Currier led the Knights to a 32-0 record and the 1A state championship last season, and the team was top-ranked and a heavy favorite to win again this year. Since the season was in full swing, Currier said he refused to quit, and was subsequently fired.
Currier said the financial discretion held by the boosters handcuffed the administration’s decision-making abilities.
“The pressure was too great for the administration of the school and while they openly admitted that there was no evidence that would substantiate a warning, let alone a terminable offense, they terminated me,” Currier wrote in an e-mail.
Desmarchais declined to comment on the specifics surrounding Currier’s exit.
The subject of booster involvement tends to make some local high school coaches tread softly.
It seems to be a necessary evil, as teams with the better facilities, newer equipment and more perks tend to draw more kids, and subsequently, win more often.
When former Chaparral coach Ron Estabrook took over the school’s football program, it didn’t resemble at all the well-oiled machine it is today. He said there was some booster club help when he arrived, but he made a conscious effort to increase it.
“I think you absolutely need (booster help),” Estabrook said. “We were able to supplement funds, improve safety issues, we put sprinklers on the practice field... just things that make your kids proud to play.”
Saguaro football coach John Sanders is on the other side of the fence. He said he was offered $10,000 two years in a row to make improvements to his facilities and help buy gear for his players.
“Ten grand to my program is really nice,” Sanders said. “Do you know how many T-shirts and shorts and socks we can get with that? But I knew what was coming with that 10 grand.”
Sanders said he turned down the offers because he didn’t want to feel like he owed someone in return.
“That’s why I say no to $10,000,” he said. “There’s no entitlement here. I don’t care who your dad is. I don’t care about his checkbook. The best players play.”
When the word booster comes up, there is often a negative connotation. It is assumed the donors will give money or volunteer time, as long as there is something in it for them.
But that’s not the motive in many cases.
Red Mountain parent Matt Ruckle is helping to refurbish the varsity baseball and softball diamonds at the school, but he said his son Matthias’ main sport is basketball.
“He’ll try out for JV (baseball) like any kid,” Ruckle said. “I told (Red Mountain coach Jason) Grantham that all I want is to get him an opportunity like any kid out there, but if he doesn’t make the team, he doesn’t make it.”
Grantham said he created a booster club two years ago to help the program out when the money is tight, but he doesn’t concern himself with who donates what.
“I made it clear to the two in charge of the booster club, I don’t want to know who donated or didn’t donate,” Grantham said. “I don’t want that issue. I only want them to donate what they can.”
Although many boosters steer clear of wielding any power, it’s the ones who do that cause the headaches for everyone involved.
Football coach Scot Bemis said it helps that at Notre Dame and places such as Brophy and St. Mary's, donations must first go through the school, then the athletic department before getting dispersed through the sports.
But he said that there are always people who will throw in their opinion because they feel their monetary donations allow them to do so.
“I’ve seen it here and other places,” Bemis said. “People donate to the school and if things aren’t going properly they’re going to raise eyebrows and get in people’s ears because they donate. I don’t care how much they donate, it’s not fair to other kids who are working just as hard.”
And once a school accepts the money, it’s hard to turn a deaf ear.
“Those are your power brokers,” Bemis said. “That’s sad, but it’s the world we live in. It’s going to happen.”