A West York defensive lineman collects his gear bag from an equipment van after he and his team arrived for a game in October. The cost of fuel to
A West York defensive lineman collects his gear bag from an equipment van after he and his team arrived for a game in October. The cost of fuel to transport sports teams has continued to go up and athletic directors say they're doing all they can to keep their transportation expenditures down. (Bill Kalina photo)

Rising gasoline and diesel prices the past several years have squeezed motorists' budgets.

Athletic directors and business managers at the 22 high schools in the York-Adams League are feeling the pain at the pump, too.

And they're doing something about it with a variety of measures designed to cut transportation costs for athletics.

The changes range from using vans instead of buses to reducing the number of contests at the middle school level and limiting the distance that teams are allowed to travel.

Wayne McCullough, chief financial officer of the Southern York School District, which includes Susquehannock High School, produced figures showing the average cost of a gallon of diesel fuel jumping from $2.47 in the 2010-11 school year to $3.50 a gallon in the 2011-12 school year.

So far, in this school year, it's $3.47 a gallon.

Those prices make school officials long for the good old days of much cheaper fuel.

Asked how the current number compares to the cost five or 10 years ago, McCullough called up the 2002-03 school year on his office computer.

"Seventy-six cents a gallon," he said. "I thought it would be higher than that."

Adjusting: "Ten years ago, we purchased 100,189 gallons. In the 2011-12 school year, we purchased 72,300 gallons, so we reduced our usage by about 25,000 gallons," McCullough added.

Susquehannock spent $56,288 on athletic transportation in the 2010-11 school year, and $58,318 in the 2011-12 school year. That's a 3.6 percent jump.

The school budgeted $65,300 for the current school year. The budgeted amount is purposely set higher to cover the possible cost of teams traveling to District 3 and

state playoff games late in the season.

The increased fuel cost is the main reason for the spike in transportation costs.

Susquehannock and the other schools in the Lincoln Intermediate Unit (York, Adams and Franklin counties) do get bit of a break over the average motorist because they purchase fuel as part of a cooperative.

Still, when you're buying almost 75,000 gallons a year, any increase in price is going to have an impact.

Bad timing: Susquehannock is typical of many York-Adams schools in that it sponsors a large number of teams in various sports throughout the school year.

During the fall and the spring, there's a potential for six different Susquehannock teams to be traveling to other schools on the same day.

"The rising fuel costs came at a critical time for us because it happened at the same time that public school funding has fallen," Susquehannock athletic director Chuck Abbott said.

"District-wide, we have eliminated over 10 percent of our bus fleet. Fortunately, our transportation vendor has worked with us to hold the line on costs (for all the school's transportation needs) at the 2010-11 levels."

What else has Susquehannock done to combat higher fuel costs?

It's combined travel for teams (baseball and softball for example) so they go to games on the same bus instead of on separate buses, Abbott said.

They've limited the number of non-league games against opponents from outside of York County. And they've reduced the number of junior high contests, specifically non-league contests.

As a result, Susquehannock and the other schools in York County have, for the most part, managed to pretty much hold the line on transportation costs the past three years. They're aiming to continue the trend in the future.

Switching to vans: Hanover athletic director Jeremy Flores said his school is looking at reducing the number of buses needed to transport athletes by using vans.

"We currently do that (use vans) for our golf and tennis teams, but we think we can send our field hockey, basketball and wrestling teams on vans to save money as well," he said.

Vans are also in West York's transportation future, according to Superintendent Emilie Lonardi.

"We just purchased two school vans to lessen our need for busing," Lonardi said. "We expect to use them for teams with fewer players (golf, cross country), for playoffs (wrestling, swimming) or for games where varsity and JV are often split (baseball, basketball). We expect to see a savings in the coming year."

West York budgeted $59,550 for transportation costs in the current school year after spending $67,374 last year. The 2011-12 figure included renting coach buses for the state baseball playoffs and state championship game.

York County School of Technology uses its school van or rents a van, rather than a bus, to transport teams with a small number of athletes. South Eastern School District (Kennard-Dale High School) purchased a van last year for the same reason.

"We also make an effort to schedule schools that are close, and we limit the number of contests by not scheduling the maximum number of games allowed by the PIAA," York Tech athletic director Rob Caruso said.

Eastern York eliminated all junior high tournaments this year, and Golden Knights athletic director Jack Predix replaced Susquenita (Perry County) with Central York for a girls' softball scrimmage. Northeastern limited travel for athletic contests to within District 3 (a 10-county area in southcentral Pennsylvania) with the exception of postseason playoffs.

In the city: York High's athletic transportation budget dropped from $50,000 in the last school year to $30,000 this year after the school eliminated five sports -- soccer, tennis, swimming, wrestling and baseball.

Athletic director Joe Chiodi, who still has to arrange transportation for six varsity teams (football, girls' volleyball, boys' basketball, girls' basketball, boys' track and field and girls' track and field) along with some junior high teams, implemented new measures to stay within his budget number.

"The cheerleaders traveled to away football games on the band bus (the band has its own travel budget) and the basketball cheerleaders will cheer at home games only during the regular season," Chiodi said. "When the playoffs roll around, if there is enough money, the cheerleaders will ride on their own bus or double up with the players on their bus.

"I have also cut back on the number of junior high basketball games for both boys and girls to eliminate some road trips."

Middle school limits: The call to cut transportation costs, and costs for game officials, came early last year from the York-Adams superintendents who proposed limiting league middle school contests in all sports, with the exception of football, to 10. Football would be capped at seven league games.

The York-Adams principals endorsed the proposal.

The caps will remain in place, for at least the immediate future, and athletic directors will continue to explore even more ways to reduce transportation costs.

Dallastown athletic director Tory Harvey, a former varsity girls' basketball coach, recognizes the importance of middle school and junior high sports in developing skills and teamwork.

Harvey, though, is well aware of the financial challenges facing school athletic programs because of funding cuts and transportation costs.

He doesn't foresee a scenario where the number of contests will be increased anytime soon.

"I think it (the number of contests) could even be reduced (again) just due to budget constraints," Harvey said.

"We're all looking at how to cut back on athletic expenses. I hope we can hold onto junior high sports."

-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolinda@yorkdispatch.com.