BASEBALL Indians donate to save prep season

Cleveland's city schools will be able to field baseball and softball teams.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Spring training hasn't even started and the Cleveland Indians have recorded their first save of the year.
The club will give about $250,000 to pay for the city school district's baseball and softball programs.
High schools in the nation's poorest big city were facing a spring without baseball following the defeat of a tax levy last November. The Indians responded after school district officials told the team about their situation.
"We are baseball in this community," Indians owner Paul Dolan said. "Part of our mission is to support youth baseball. We saw it as an opportunity to help."
The Indians have donated $100,000 a year over the last 10 years to support boys baseball and girls softball in the Cleveland school district. This year they swung for the fences.
"Other teams support programs, but to our knowledge never to the extent that the Cleveland Indians are doing so," said Major League Baseball spokesman Matt Burton.
Unprecedented move
Tight budgets are forcing more schools to rely on corporate sponsorships to fund sports, said Bob Gardner, chief operating officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
But support usually comes in the form of advertising or naming rights to a gymnasium or stadium.
"This is very unique and something we would commend the Cleveland baseball club for doing," Gardner said.
Booster clubs were once the main source of money to support sports when school funding fell short, Gardner said. Districts are resorting to "pay to play" and other funding sources.
"It's natural to look to corporate help because that's who generally has the resources," he said.
So far, the corporate ties haven't tarnished high school sports in any way, Gardner said.
The Indians' contribution will fund 20 teams at 10 high schools in the 70,000-student district, Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio said. It will cover everything from coaches salaries and transportation to field maintenance and equipment.
The money will come from Cleveland Indians Charities, which provides educational and recreational opportunities for children.
The charity, which contributed $495,000 to local programs in 2002, will sell blue and red wristbands to help raise the extra money for the city schools.
The Indians will announce the contribution at a news conference today.
The Dolans, who have owned the team since 2000, are Cleveland natives and have a sentimental attachment to local high school sports. Paul Dolan's father, Larry, played baseball for St. Ignatius.
"We sort of jumped at the opportunity," Dolan said.
The Cleveland school district has only passed two levies since 1970. The levy failure in November came in the wake of a federal report showing the city had a 31.3 percent poverty rate in 2003, making it America's most impoverished big city.