A $10,000 donation to G.W. Graham secondary school’s football program hangs in the balance this week after the Chilliwack school board approved a pared-down version of a request to rename the school’s athletic field.
The request—to rename the school’s football field GWG Rotary Field—first came to the board in June, when trustee were told the new name would net the school’s fledgling football program a $10,000 donation from the Chilliwack Rotary Club.
But some trustees raised concerns about corporate sponsorship in schools and about breaking the district’s tradition of naming schools and parts of schools after prominent local educators.
The proposal made its way through two committees before coming back to the board Tuesday—this time with a request for only temporary signage during home games.
The board whittled that down even further, however, with a recommendation by trustee Doug McKay to approve a “removable banner on the school property during home games of the school’s football team, confirming that the team is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Chilliwack.”
The motion passed unanimously, but it’s now up in the air whether Rotary will still sponsor the team given the pared-down agreement.
“I’ll call the club president and talk to him about it,” Rotary ways and means committee chair Jason Arnold told the Times. “Then I’ll probably have to go back to the ways and means committee to get their permission on how they want to proceed because when they voted to support it they voted it under the notion that we presented it to the schools, so now we’ll have to look at it again.”
Sponsorship or no sponsorship, however, trustee Silvia Dyck warned against the board setting a precedent by allowing sponsors, corporate or otherwise, to pay money for naming rights to public property.
“Philanthropy doesn’t require advertisement,” she said. “True philanthropy says, ‘I give you this because it’s the right thing to do,’ and it doesn’t require self-aggrandizement or advertisement or that kind of thing.”
But Arnold said putting the Rotary name on projects supported by the club raises the club’s profile and encourages more people to get involved in its good work.
“Rotary has a huge youth exchange program,” he said, “and getting the Rotary name out in the schools just further promotes that.”
G.W. Graham head coach Laurie Smith, meanwhile, hopes the compromise approved Tuesday will be enough.
“I’m disappointed for Rotary because I would rather see a permanent sign,” he said. “I would rather see them recognized. Trustee Dyck was calling it self-aggrandizement. That’s not what it is for Rotary. Rotary is a service club that likes to alert people to the fact that it’s doing all this good work to draw more people in, to get more people involved in Rotary, to do more good work.”
Smith appealed to trustees during the meeting, highlighting the positive impact the football program is making at the school.
In its first season this fall it included a junior varsity team that narrowly missed playoffs after a 4-2 season and a Grade 8 team that shocked the province by making it all the way to the B.C. championship final at B.C. Place.
But the program isn’t about wins and losses, Smith said.
“We talked about a program that was driven by graduating exceptional student athletes and by character development,” he said. "For a few of them, I know for sure it’s the first time they’ve had that kind of direction.”
Fifty-four students were involved this year and, with the addition of a senior team, Smith expects over 100 next year.
Despite $60,000 in startup coast, parents, volunteers and coaches have gotten the program off the ground without appealing to the district for funding.
The booster club has raised $20,000 so far and Smith has put in $11,000 of his own money, he said.
The team is $30,000 in the red now, and the addition of a senior program next year will mean even more costs, but Smith said the program wasn’t looking for money from the board, just its support in securing a private donation from Rotary.
With the difference the team is making in lives of its student athletes, he said that support would be well worth it.
Said Smith to the Times: “I got a call from a parent the other day, and he said, ‘You have to understand. My kid would not be at school right now if it wasn’t for the football program,’ and that makes it worth it.”