Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Larry Herges, CAA, athletic administrator at Three Rivers Local School District in Cleves, Ohio, regarding ways to secure grants for high school athletic programs.
Question: How were you introduced to the concept of applying for grants that could help fund the capital projects at your school?
Herges: In 2001, I prepared my first grant proposal as the director of the Athens County Victim Assistance Program. The program was designed to operate entirely through grant monies awarded by the Ohio Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice. I wrote the proposal and received a $160,000 grant for the program to function for the calendar year.
Approximately seven years ago, a group of individuals from the Three Rivers Local School District applied for and were turned down for the NFL Grassroots Grant. After this result, I turned my attention to putting a team in place that could answer all the necessary questions related to the grant. This expert group consisted of the athletic booster club president, the soccer coach who had a background in construction, an alumnus who knew the history of the district and an attorney who lived in the district and could assure we used the proper legal language in the final draft.
Question: You mentioned the importance of developing working relationships and trust in your community in order to raise matching funds. How did you accomplish this and how long did this process take and is this an ongoing effort?
Herges: I always believed we could and would ultimately build top-notch athletic facilities. I was very passionate and shared the dream about our projects to anyone who would listen. It was not always easy, because some community members were more negative than positive. However, I never let adverse comments deter me from what I believed would become a reality. Trust is always the last aspect to be earned and this was a constant struggle to overcome.
To gain trust, we had to show progress that our community could visualize. Initially, we decided to build a soccer-only stadium with natural grass, lighting and bleachers for 500 fans and this project proved to the community we were serious.
During these undertakings, I leaned heavily on key figures of our community to learn the culture and to build relationships. It is important to roll up your sleeves and not be afraid to get your hands dirty. Start forging relationships well before you need help and even before projects are conceived.
Question: Also, you mentioned that providing all the requested information in the application was critical in the grant process. Were there any techniques, steps or hints that you found helpful in completing the applications?
Herges: Precise information is crucial in grant writing. It is important to know and understand the demographics of your community including income levels, racial makeup/ethnicity, housing stock, commercial areas, parks and open space, community support and the planned program. This information requires a lot of research and personal contacts. The process is not a one-person job. It takes several individuals to gather the information, and I had to sell the idea of investing time and energy into the project because the future reward from this grant would not be realized for several years.
It is important to stress the value of community usage by expanding the parameters of the project to include the youth and community groups. Also, developing and organizing the ability to host outside groups supports your business partnerships. A vital key is also having an attorney who can review and finalize the grant with the correct legal language and be invested in your project. For the Three Rivers Local School District initiatives, we were very fortunate to have a community member who shared the same vision.
Question: With all of the many responsibilities and tasks associated with your position, how did you find the time to research and apply for a grant?
Herges: Making time for important projects is a necessity. I honestly believe staying positive and showing effort attracts others who may want to be involved. The community understood the importance of this grant and what the outcome would be if awarded to our school district.
Question: Is there anything that surprised you about submitting a grant application and the process as a whole?
Herges: The NFL Grassroots Grant was very detailed-oriented. It required documented facts to prove your findings, letters from key figures of your community including trustees, football coaches and youth organization leaders, and proof of having the matching funds being requested. Grants have a precise deadline that must be met. I cannot tell you how many times I tracked our package to New York. It was a relief knowing it was on the correct desk at the NFL. The wait is the most difficult. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. I will never forget what I was doing and exactly where I was when I received the phone call from the Cincinnati Bengals to inform me our school was being awarded the NFL Grassroots Grant for $200,000.
Question: What type of administrative or school board approval did you have to get before starting the grant process? Did the amount of autonomy that you had or lacked, help or hinder the process?
Herges: The Three Rivers Local School District Board of Education has been very supportive with the development of our entire athletic complex. Enormous credit has to be given to our former Board President, Tim Wagner, for giving me the support needed to accomplish what we have on our new campus. He always listened and supported the efforts to go after the dream of building an outstanding facility to benefit our student body and community. Assistant Superintendent Tom Bailey also provided the necessary support from the administration of our district. He believed in the direction I established and allowed me to make tough decisions even when they were not the most popular. He understood my passion and pushed me to achieve the goals set by the school district.
Question: What are two to three practical suggestions that you would offer first-time grant seekers?
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 450 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a new book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.