On bended knee before the budget appeals board

Hat in hand, they made their pitches: We need more money from the Mother Ship. Poker-faced, the USATF budget appeals board sat in judgment of USATF LDR, open track and other committees before the masters delegation appeared for its own audience. Shortly after 12:20 p.m. Friday, Masters Chair George Mathews began his remarks, seeking a total of $13,500 for six specific areas.

In recent years, the USATF Masters T&F Committee has taken a budget licking. Despite crying needs for improved marketing, communications and athlete programs, USATF Masters has meekly accepted a pittance from USA Track & Field. In recent years, the figure has been $32,000 — $7,000 for championships support and $25,000 for committee support.
This year, something changed. Bob Weiner of the Masters T&F Media Committee and others urged Mathews — a world-class M60 thrower — to put the hammer down and fight for more funding. So on Thursday night, he huddled with his Executive Committee — including outgoing Treasurer Frank Lulich and incoming Treasurer Joy McDonald — and came up with a list of must-have monies, and explanations for how USATF Masters has fallen short.
In just under 20 minutes, Mathews laid out the arguments before USATF Treasurer Ed Koch, appeals board member (and Olympic sprinter) Larry James, Tony Kozy and several others, all sitting around a boardroom style conference table in a tight room at the Portland Hilton.
“We’re growing,” Mathews began. “We’ve done a good job of getting supplemental funding (above and beyond USATF’s $32,000). Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point here” where a “nest egg” of surcharge revenue from entry fees at the 2001 Baton Rouge masters outdoor nationals ($20,000 or $25,000) has dwindled to nearly nothing.
Mathews said that in 2005, the USATF Masters T&F budget is just under $56,000, and that’s going to be spent “right down to zero. We need to start some initiatives this year so (USATF) doesn’t have to backfill us next year.”
Mathews — accompanied by Lulich, McDonald, Weiner and active athletes representative Dave Clingan — then began ticking off requests for what he later called “seed money.”
Briefly, they were:
– $2,500 to unite Executive Committee folks for a Strategic Plan powwow.
– $2,000 to pay for extra team managers at the San Sebastian world meet.
– $2,000 to organize a Masters Track Hall of Fame display at the NYC Armory.
– $2,500 for direct mailing of championship entry forms.
– $2,000 for a hometown press initiative.
– And $2,500 to hire a marketing agent to seek corporate sponsors.
Mathews said USATF Masters needs to create a Strategic Plan that would “dovetail” with that of the broader USATF. The $2,500 would be used to bring Executive Committee members together for two days before the national indoor and outdoor championships for a productive round of planning sessions.
He said USATF Masters needed enough money to “send a full complement” of team managers to watch out for U.S. masters interests at the 2005 World Masters Athletic Championshipos in San Sebastian, Spain. He said three venues would be used, and one team manager (Phil Greenwald) wasn’t enough to monitor all three. (Afterward, he said he was relieved he wasn’t asked whether Pashkin had any helpers. She does — two assistants who at this point are due to get a half-stipend to cover their Spain expenses.)
Mathews said USATF Masters needed $2,000 to help gather, prepare and ship exhibits for a Masters Track Hall of Fame at the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, which opened nearly a year ago at the Armory in New York City. “The USATF Hall of Fame is ready for us,” he said, “but we’re not ready.”
Direct mailing of entry forms to national and regional USATF championships “would help us with our growth,” Mathews said. “Costs have gotten higher than we thought.” He asked for $2,500.
The appeals board asked him to rank his requests by priority.
Mathews did thusly:
1. The San Sebastian team managers.
2. The Strategic Plan session.
3. Entry forms distribution.
4. Hometown press initiative, (press releases to athletes’ home papers.)
5. Masters Hall of Fame chores.
6. Hiring a marketing agent.
About that marketing agent. Mathews said, “We’ve tried volunteers (to seek sources of corporate funding), and it’s not working.” He said the marketing agent would work on a fee-contingency basis — netting his money when he landed some big fish.
An appeals board member asked: Why is the current surcharge (an extra amount added to meet entry costs) not sufficient?
Mathews said USATF Masters has been tapping those annual funds to pay for the Games Committee — the folks who make sure the local organizing committees (meet hosts) are doing a proper job. Other needs go wanting.
“We’re pushing the envelope on our surcharges,” Mathews told the board, “nickel and diming (athletes) to death.”
Near the beginning and again at the end of his remarks, Mathews clearly looked and sounded contrite, almost embarrassed to be begging for money. “I feel like I’m sticking my neck out to ask for help,” he told the board.
A final question from the board: What is your growth rate?
Mathews backtracked from his opening boast.
“The growth really hasn’t been dramatic,” Mathews said. But then a budget board member cited some hard numbers, charting the increase in masters membership from 2001 to 2004:
In 2001, USATF had 14,186 masters (over-40) members.
In 2002, it was 14,456.
In 2003, it was 15,696.
In 2004, it was 16,364.
(It’s unclear what the masters T&F vs. LDR breakdown is, but masters rankings maintained by Dave Clingan on behalf of USATF Masters suggest about 6,000 active masters track and field athletes in America.)
Buoyed by a feeling that the budget panel was seeing things his way, Mathews concluded: “We’re pretty excited about doing a Strategic Plan. We need a road map to to see what we want to be — and how to get there.”
At 12:41, the USATF Masters delegation left the room, and the budget appeals board later met in closed session to chew things over.
I don’t yet know the verdict.
In the hallway outside the meeting suite, Mathews ruminated over why this was the first time since the 1980s (when Al Sheahen and Jerry Donley won some substantial increases) that USATF Masters had aggressively challenged its budget allocation from USATF.
“Nobody complains. Nobody takes the initiative,” Mathews told me. He said that until recently, no regional coordinator or committee chairman had come to him and said: “I don’t have enough money to operate.”
He said the committees have to drop what he calls an “entitlement attitude,” and “stop the rhetoric (with) great adjectives… Give me what your specific needs are.”
In fact, Mathews said, “We’ve had a contentious exchange of ideas in the past few weeks. We have so many ideas. It’s forcing us to do a Strategic Plan.”
I then confirmed stories that Mathews — angry over internal arguments — had withdrawn his candidacy for chairman for a short time around Thanksgiving. I asked him if was glad he got back in the race.
Mathews said, “Luckily, enough people implored me to come back.”
Said Weiner of the chairman’s performance: “George Mathews did a spectacular job.”

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December 3, 2004