PLANTATION KEY -- Coral Shores High School athletes and cheerleaders this year won't be asking for donations to supplement their programs.
The school's athletic department has embarked on a new way to raise funds -- through community service.
Athletes have already begun working for Habitat for Humanity and local food pantries in exchange for financial support from the Upper Keys Foundation, a newly-formed organization of local well-to-do donors.
"It's an amazing effort," said Coral Shores Principal David Murphy. "It's great for everyone."
Murphy said with athletics being one of the first things cash-strapped school districts put on the chopping block, this arrangement between the athletic program and foundation can help avoid funding cuts.
The program will also enable athletes to attain community service hours needed for college. Murphy said those hours will fulfill Florida Bright Futures Scholarship requirements, and also make applicants more competitive to admissions counselors.
"It eliminates the need to do little fundraisers," he said. It will also prevent parents from having to supplement the cost of sports and cheerleading through a pay-to-play system.
"I've heard nothing but positives," Murphy said.
The Coral Shores swim team will work for the Islamorada food pantry and the cheerleading team at the Plantation Key Nursing Center.
"In essence this is the ultimate goal of the programs, tutor our kids into giving back rather than taking," said Athletic Director Rich Russell, who was behind the idea. "In doing that, they have had helped homeless, elderly and helped build a house for a family with unique needs."
Russell said the value the athletes and cheerleaders receive will go far beyond the classroom and college.
"I think they really sense self-worth," Russell said. "We are trying to create a lifetime pattern."
Russell said assistant AD Barnaby Rich also helped create the program.
"There's so many values acquired through athletics," Russell said. "This adds one more layer that other programs don't have."
The ability to do this stems from a very giving, unique community, he said.
Coral Shores football player Jimmy Rhyne said the program has another benefit.
"Anything we do outside of school builds us as a team," Rhyne said.
Other than helping Habitat for Humanity, Rhyne said he and some of his teammates also help coach junior varsity games.
Head football coach Ed Holly said he appreciates the school getting behind the concept.
"We're happy to have the support of the principal," he said.
Holly said he is excited about the upcoming community service work and expects schools around the country to copy this program.