At Churchville-Chili, they wear orange jackets and at Spencerport it's fluorescent green. In Fairport, they're in the red coats or yellow vests.
They are teachers or other school employees working as supervisors or "chaperones" at high school games. They wear those jackets to be easily identifiable, but the compensation they receive is among the costs that pile up when hosting high school sports events. Everyone knows game officials are paid to be there, but at most varsity games people directing traffic in crowded parking lots, selling tickets, monitoring the crowd, handling the public-address announcements and running the scoreboard or clock, are also paid to be there.
When there are big crowds at some larger schools, many districts don't just rely on their own employees for supervision and security. Spencerport and East Irondequoit Eastridge are among those who supplement it with Swoop 1, a private security firm that employs some former officers, off-duty police making an extra buck or licensed security personnel. Churchville-Chili uses a similar company called C.O.P. Security.
"They're what I call an insurance policy," longtime Spencerport athletic director John Pelin said of Swoop 1, which works with the school's head of security, Toby Toscano. "With the intensity and emotions sometimes involved (among fans), we want it to be a safe environment and with Swoop 1 we have the people there who can handle those situations."
When Fairport hosts Bishop Kearney (Jan. 3) and rival Rush-Henrietta (Jan. 9) this winter in boys basketball, students, parents and other fans will pack into the gymnasium. "You can't just expect that 2,000 people coming to an event are going to park in the right place," Fairport athletic director Jim Zumbo said about the need for school-paid employees directing traffic. "For us to run those games safely and efficiently, it probably costs $800 or $900, maybe even $1,000 with the amount of people we'll have working."
Schools handle how they pay employees who work games differently and it's not just home games. Based on how much they think it's needed, particularly in monitoring their own students and fans, athletic directors often send a supervisor or two -- even as many as four or six -- to games at other schools.
"It's based on experience on how big the crowd might be, what the rivalry may be like or if there have been past incidents," Zumbo said.
Some schools pay supervisors by the hour, others pay a flat rate and it varies per school. For example, Spencerport ($22.47), Eastridge ($16.22), Fairport ($16.10), Penfield ($15) and Webster Schroeder ($15) each pay an hour rate. At Keshequa, a smaller Class C school which doesn't have as many events, the hourly rate ranges from $23-$26, athletic director Todd Isaman said. For teachers who chaperone, the rate is usually uniform based on their union contract.
The City School District pays teacher-supervisors per the event, no matter how long it lasts. If one works, for example, a boys varsity basketball game, they get paid $45. If they work the junior-varsity game, too -- as is usually the case -- it's $70 for the doubleheader. In Elba, a Class D school, it's $55 to work the doubleheader. Class B Mynderse Academy in Seneca Falls also pays a $50 flat fee.
At Churchville-Chili, chaperones make $65 per event. A head chaperone earns $72, said the Saints' first-year athletic director, Mike Murray. He has an interesting perspective because he spent the past eight years at Mount Morris (Class D), a much smaller district with fewer teams and games.
"The difference is at Churchville-Chili we have to hire for almost every (varsity) event," Murray said. "At Mount Morris, I didn't have a chaperone for, say, a boys soccer game. I'd be there. There were only one or two events going on in a day where as at Churchville-Chili might have six events per day, and that's just home games."
Volunteers still help
To estimate what an average large-school district pays for supervision and support staff at games annually is difficult because each school is unique. Volunteers are still part of the equation, too, particularly at the modified and JV levels. But it varies by sport.
"There are some people who stick with it (who volunteer) just because they want to still be a part of the game because they love it," Zumbo said. "Some people pay to have their scorebook kept; some don't."
Some smaller schools have relied more in recent years on volunteers to save money, a few A.D.s said. Large schools do too, but not as much, particularly at the varsity level in major sports. Some schools don't pay people who work the first-down chains in football. Eastridge does. "We want the consistency and they're part of the officiating crew," Eastridge athletic director Robert Crocetti said.
That's more important, Zumbo said, at the varsity level. "Some people ask us why we pay instead of using volunteers," he said. "When the clock and consequence and management of the (scorer's) table (in basketball) is more significant, you're usually paying people. Why are they paid? Because they're an integral part of the game."
And they're supposed to be objective, which was a point of emphasis at a recent meeting among area administrators. Crocetti and Zumbo each cited a game last year in which a parent working in some role at the scorer's table was assessed a technical foul by a referee. That should never happen, they said.
Crowd size bumps cost
The amount of people needed to supervise, based on crowd size, and manage the event determine the cost of a game. While schools charge a few dollars admission at some sports, they don't for all. That also varies by school.
Penfield athletic director Pete Shambo estimated that a typical football game might cost about $760 because four supervisors, one ticket seller and one clock operator (each makes $60) are needed along with a five-person officiating crew ($80 for each). By contrast, a baseball game with a much smaller crowd usually requires only two supervisors and two officials. Total cost: $280. What about a sparsely attended tennis match, a sport in which athletes officiate themselves? Total cost: $0.
Athletic directors want enough supervisors present to curb or handle any issues that may arise within the stands; it's not always just about fan behavior. "What if a kid breaks his arm at a track meet where there are 60-plus kids? Coaches need help," said former Irondequoit athletic director Denny Fries. Supervisors can help ensure the athlete has the proper medical attention promptly.
Shambo said he's saved a few dollars because he's needed fewer crowd supervisors thanks to what he thinks has been improved sportsmanship among students. "Across our section it has been clear about what the (behavioral) expectation is," he said.
Mike Torrelli, Zumbo's assistant who has headed up Fairport security since the late 1990s, said ice hockey used to have a bad reputation for fan behavior. "There was always an issue, always something going on," he said. But he added that it has been cleaned up. Ice hockey is different than all other sports because the Monroe County High School Hockey League is its own organization. Each school pays the league the same amount to cover supervision, but athletic directors still might send a couple of school chaperones if they think it's necessary.
"I'd rather be over-staffed than under-staffed," added Zumbo. "It only takes one person to create a problem."
He recalled a JV basketball game in the Albany area decades ago when he was then just an athletic trainer working the event. There were at most 20 people watching and Zumbo said he had to "stop an irate father," from running out of stands and after an official. There are enough "real life" and recent examples of bad fan behavior to support proper supervision, he said.
"It's a sad part of the game, but it needs to be there," Zumbo said.
Even if schools don't work with private security firms, many use off-duty police from their town and sometimes officers who are on duty to help supervise games.
Pelin says he provides the Ogden Police with a schedule of Spencerport's events and will ask, when needed, if they can stop by for a few minutes. "They often do it as part of their routine run. It gives us a great presence," Pelin said.
That's free of charge. Cotto said the RCSD pays the Rochester Police Department to do the same at certain schools during the day and at certain games. More than a police presence, Section V Boys Basketball Chairman Jack Purificato credited the security crew from the RCSD led by late Eddie "Dino" Page for helping stem violence that several years ago routinely marred big Section V games at Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester Community War Memorial.
While schools with teams playing on the court still sent chaperones, Page assembled a group of RCSD sentries -- at times it was as large as 20, Purificato said -- to work the event at $40 per man. They brought handheld metal detectors, too. "These guys know a lot of these kids and know how to handle them," Purificato said. "They know what to look for because they do it every day."
Although Mr. Page, who was 62, died suddenly on Oct. 10 of an apparent heart attack -- just 17 days before the former Monroe High player was inducted into the Section V Boys Basketball Hall of Fame -- Purificato said Franklin boys coach Eddie Lee and Sam Kimball plan to take over Page's leadership.
"Dino made sure the right people were there and we eliminated some of the gang garbage," Lee said.