JACKSONVILLE, Fla -- The Duval County School Board is tackling another round of budget cuts on Friday trying to find at least $14 million more in savings.
The district is facing a projected $91 million shortfall as funding from the state has been cut.
On the eve of the school board workshop, runners took to the streets of downtown Jacksonville to draw attention to the board's decision to axe 10 varsity sports programs to save money.
Doug Alred of 1st Place Sports has been in the running business since 1978 and is now spearheading an effort to raise $70,000 to keep running in Duval high schools.
Cross country is on the chopping block in the Duval County Public Schools system as it cuts sports to close the budget deficit, but Alred said it needs to stay.
"The character building in running is just unbelievable; it requires a lot of commitment, time, and there is a lot of pain and suffering," said Alred, who has been the River Run director for 28 years. "It is a team sport, and also an individual sport, you have to go out there and perform"
1st Place Sports has a 501 c(3) non-profit running club and will raise tax deductible funds through that group.
Cross-country teams also hosted a community run across the bridges in Jacksonville this evening.
"It's just kind of a solidarity run, and we thought we should pick a neutral venue; one of the places our kids run in the off season is downtown, over the bridges," said Tony Ryan, Head Cross Country Coach at Bolles High School.
"So we said let's meet downtown. What started out as just a run with about 50 kids has snowballed from there."
Duval County Athletic Director Jon Fox has heard from other groups as well who are interested in opening accounts to raise money to keep their sports.
"It is amazing that there are this many people in this community who are passionate about these sports, it is very gratifying, very heartwarming," he said. "I wouldn't cut any if I had my way but it is great to see all these people step up and try to help us."
Fox is meeting with the groups in the next two weeks to open accounts and create a way for them to raise money. Tennis pros, golf pros, former wrestlers and parents who have expressed interest in doing what they can to keep the competition going.
The cuts to sports total about $381,000 and include boys and girls golf, tennis, lacrosse, cross country, boys wrestling, and girls slow pitch softball.
Today, high-school athletes in Duval County asked for a countywide blackout. To protest the proposed cuts to some sports programs, they asked all students in the district to wear black to school.
First Coast News