Cost of competition: Marco Island Academy teams take to the web for fundraising

Lance Shearer

High school sports are not free, or even cheap. Marco Island’s charter high school has come up with a new avenue to raise funds for their athletic program – crowd sourcing via the Internet.

Marco Island Academy board chair Jane Watt said the school budgets over $100,000 annually to pay the costs of running their sports programs – and they have to find the money themselves.

As a charter school, “all our athletic program is dependent on fundraising,” said Watt. “We do have participation fees – each student has to pay to play – but they don’t begin to cover all the costs.

Team members appear in a video on the snap-raise site. Marco Island Academy athletics is using a web page to bring in money to fund their fall sports program.

“We’ve been lucky to get grants. The Island Country Club gives us a grant for students who can’t afford the fees,” but the school is always looking for more funding.

This year, Marco Island Academy (MIA) is taking a new approach, which Watt credited to the school’s new athletic director, Ryan Marie Roberts.

“We’ve never done this before – at least effectively,” said Watt. MIA is working with Snap! Raise, a website that partners with schools, teams and clubs to raise money for their programs, and claims over $100 million raised. The MIA web page lists a goal of $20,000 for fall sports, and shows a running tally of progress towards it, along with a scroll of those who have contributed.

The site also displays a short video, with MIA athletes explaining the drive and making a pitch for donations. Each student-athlete, said Roberts, was given a goal of $500 from their contacts, and asked to submit a list of 20 prospects for the campaign to contact.

“We go to their biggest fans – grandma and grandpa, godmothers, uncles and family friends,” she said. “I felt Snap Raise would be a good fit, so I emailed them.” She had seen the program in action at her previous job, and said it did a good job.

Roberts comes to MIA from Lely High School, where she was assistant athletic director, as well as teaching psychology, sociology, and economics, all of which would seem to be excellent preparation for her role on Marco Island.

The MIA volleyball team practices at MICMS. Marco Island Academy athletics is using a web page to bring in money to fund their fall sports program.

As a charter school, MIA operates next to but distinct from other public schools. While many of the prospective students come to the high school from Marco Island Charter Middle School (MICMS), on the school district’s books, Marco Island students are zoned for Manatee Middle School, and then Lely High School. To attend MIA, students and their parents have to make a conscious decision, and then go through the enrollment process.

They also have to take on some additional responsibility financially. Although there is no tuition fee, some of the programs students at public schools take for granted must be paid for at charter schools such as MIA.

“We have no home fields or transportation,” said Watt. “We compete against a lot of private schools, who have more money, and more facilities.”

She expressed pride in the school’s athletic achievements, although they have been focused strongly on academics. Marco Island Academy is an A-rated high school, ranked in the top two percent of the nation’s most challenging high schools, designated a High-Performing Charter School by the Florida Dept. of Education, and ranked as one of the nation’s most academically challenging schools by the Washington Post.

Volleyball coach Alyssa Stolinas, right, leads her team in a practice at MICMS. Marco Island Academy athletics is using a web page to bring in money to fund their fall sports program.

With academics well in hand, MIA is working to bolster their athletic standing, said Watt, and that is where Roberts comes in.

“Ryan has a great understanding of high school athletics. I think she will make a big difference,” said Watt. “We really want to improve our athletics and give students the complete high school experience.”

Dollars raised through the Snap! Raise web page will help, paying for items such as buses to away games, gym fees for home games, football referees, and entry fees for cross country meets. The MIA web page lists what contributions at various levels will cover, from $25, the cost to rent the gym at MICMS or the YMCA for one hour, to $1,000, the approximate cost of equipment for a sports team.

Fall sports at MIA include football, volleyball, swimming and cross country, as well as cheerleading. Winter and spring sports will have their own fundraising campaigns.

To view the MIA Snap! Raise page and student video, or to contribute to the program, go online to Marco Island Academy is a 501 (c)3 charitable organization.