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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Countryside High winter guard facing financial problems

CLEARWATER — A $10,000 shortfall means Countryside High School may lose its popular winter guard program.

The program has become increasingly successful in recent years, and this year the team moved into a tougher division. It’s a competitive activity that incorporates more elaborate props and choreography than the color guard, the marching band counterpart that performs during football season.

Despite its recent successes, though, the winter guard, which is funded through fees and donations, is struggling to stay afloat.

“Most schools go through it, but we’re going through it immensely right now,” said Emilie Beining, the program’s director. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

It costs $650 per student to participate in the winter guard every year and another $650 to take part in the color guard. Many students do both.

The Pinellas County school district requires many extracurricular programs to admit any student who wants to participate, regardless of whether the student’s family can cover the fee.

With 15 members on the school’s winter guard squad — all girls, except for one — raising the money to ensure everyone can participate costs thousands of dollars. The group’s booster club must raise the funds if the program is to stay solvent. Tuesday, the booster club’s board of directors will discuss whether it can raise enough money to save the program.

“We’re hurting right now,” said Mike Pate, a board member with two daughters in the program.

The booster club is exploring possible matching grants; bumping up fees or holding more car washes aren’t good options, though, he said.

“You can only sell so may things to the same sets of parents,” Pate said.

Such funding struggles are common, said Carol Vick, executive director with the Florida Alliance for Arts Education. As the economy improves, funding is becoming more available, and groups that help at-risk youth sometimes have an edge, she said.

That could work in the winter guard’s favor.

“There are some girls who have been in the program who might have really gone down a bad path,” sad Allison Roeser, a senior who is one of the team captains. “It helps kids keep up their grades, stay out of trouble.”

Losing the winter guard also could make members ineligible for scholarships that some universities offer performers.

The color guard is already practising, and its funding this season is secure. However, it also could face the same financial challenges next year, said Pate.

Regardless of what the booster club decides, Pate said he and others would continue searching for options to save the winter guard program.

“I’m not going to let these girls down,” he said. “I can’t let this thing die.”

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the school, 3000 State Road 580. For information, go to www.cougarmusic.com.

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