CONCORD -- Although spirits are high for Sunday's 5k fundraiser to help support Mt. Diablo district sports, sign-ups and total pledged donations for the third annual event are down, organizers say.
"We're hopefully optimistic," said Pat Middendorf, athletic director for Clayton Valley High, who is helping to coordinate the run at Newhall Park. "If we're still down by a big number on race day, we're going to say: 'What are we doing wrong? Or, is the community still behind it? Or, is the economy so bad that we have to accept it?' "
After the school board eliminated funding for after-school sports due to budget cuts in 2009, the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation was formed to keep the programs alive through student donations, gate receipts and fundraisers such as the 5k race.
The first year, the race drew 2,200 participants and generated $100,000, Middendorf said. The following year, she said participation dropped to about 1,600 runners, while revenues sank to $70,000.
This Sunday, Middendorf said the foundation is hoping to match last year's revenues and to attract at least 1,200 participants. As of Monday, only about 500 race runners had signed up, she said.
"I'm sure we've picked up 300 since then," Middendorf said.
She's holding out hope for a big last-minute turnout on race day, similar to what happened at the first two races. About 800 people showed up to register the morning of the 2009 race, and 300 last-minute racers came last year, Middendorf said.
To drum up interest and friendly competition, students have challenged city council members in Concord, Clayton, Pleasant Hill and Pittsburg to see who can show the most support through participating or donating, Middendorf said.
After athletes from Concord and Ygnacio Valley high schools asked the Concord City Council for its support last month, all five members said they would attend to show school and city spirit.
"I will join you," Councilman Tim Grayson said, "and we will beat Walnut Creek and Clayton."
Students spoke passionately about the leadership and teamwork skills -- as well as self-confidence and social opportunities -- that sports have brought into their lives.
"I've played baseball since I was 4 years old and baseball is my life," said 17-year-old Max Teranen, a Concord High senior. "If our sports went away, I'd be devastated."
However, sports could go away if donations and participation in fundraisers doesn't pick up, said Marci Finley, of Concord, who is helping Middendorf coordinate the race.
"I'm disappointed," she said Friday. "I feel that people don't understand that sports has to be a self-sustaining entity, otherwise the district can't support it. We've been able to keep it going for three years and I think some complacency has set in."