Millennium High School, a selective public secondary school in the Financial District that gives admissions preference to Lower Manhattan applicants, has succeeded in record time with an unprecedented campaign to raise funds in order to launch a girls’ softball team this spring. In less than three weeks, the school has collected almost $10,000 in contributions, enough to self-fund the team through its first season, which begins in March. Along the way, Millennium received a political assist from State Senator Daniel Squadron and financial backing from New York-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital.
The saga began several months ago, when Millennium athletic director Brian Friedman responded to calls from female student athletes and their parents by seeking permission to start a girls’ softball program. Such a request goes to the Public School Athletic League (PSAL), the governing body for sports at public high schools in the five boroughs of New York City, which has formidable requirements for approving new teams: facilities for play and practice, a coaching staff in place, demonstrated interest from students and support from the school’s administration.
Millennium meets all of these prerequisites, but PSAL is also facing a funding shortfall, which makes it almost impossible to approve new teams, even at schools that match its criteria. “They have a process every year for schools to apply for new teams,” explains coach Friedman. “And just in the last few years they’ve had many new requests, but no extra budget. So our request was originally denied, but I kept pushing.”
Coach Friedman’s determination was borne, in part, of the fact that Millennium is an emerging sports powerhouse: “Our soccer and baseball teams just moved up to higher division, and our basketball is competitive in its division,” he explains.
“When I asked PSAL why we were turned down,” recalls coach Friedman, “they answered that it was about money.” At this point, Millennium parents turned to State Senator Daniel Squadron, who intervened with PSAL. Although it was not possible for the organization to allocate scarce funds to a new team at Millennium, Senator Squadron persuaded PSAL to include a new team if the Millennium school community could fund it themselves.
“They said self-funding was unprecedented,” says coach Friedman, “but they would look into it. Then, they came back and said they would approve it if we could raise the money. PSAL wanted to see this happen, but they didn’t have the resources. So we had to make up that gap on our own.”
Millennium parents began soliciting contributions during the last week in January, through a webpage at crowdfunding portal GoFundMe.com. (Click HERE for more information, or to contribute.) “The total cost for a three-year program is a little more than $36,000,” explains coach Friedman. “The good news was that we didn’t need that much right away.” PSAL has agreed to allow Millennium to launch its girls’ softball program with just the money needed for the first season, which comes to about $9,800. “The bad news was that we needed the money for the first season almost immediately, because practice starts on March 1, and games begin in April, which means that PSAL had to start figuring out schedules just a few days after we began raising money.”
The Millennium community committed more than half of the funds needed in less than a week. But even that display of generosity meant that Coach Friedman still had to raise $5,000 in a matter of days. It was at this point that New York-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital stepped in. After reading published reports about the school’s campaign, the facility decided to contribute the remaining $5,000 to fund the first season.
“Promoting health and wellness is an essential part of our mission in Lower Manhattan,” explains Michael Fosina, senior vice president and chief operating officer at New York-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan. “After reading about Millennium High School’s fundraiser to launch a softball team, we thought it was a great opportunity to help these young people stay active and have fun. We wish them luck in their first season!”
Senator Squadron says, “I’m thrilled to hear that the young women of Millennium will have the opportunity to step up to the plate, and I’ll be rooting for them. Now, going forward, we need to make sure they can field a team every season. I’ll keep working with Millennium’s administration, parents, students, and the PSAL to make sure a team is on the field for years to come.”
“We will have to raise another $26,000 to get us through seasons two and three,” says coach Friedman. “So our work isn’t done, yet. But this is a great start. Getting what everybody wanted and making it happen by everybody having a hand in the process has been the best of all possible outcomes. This makes all of us want to work hard, because it shows that something incredible can happen if you really believe in it. This makes us all feel like we can get anything done here.”
In many ways, a girls’ softball program is a natural for Millennium. The school is located in a neighborhood that is a hotbed of girls’ baseball talent: In 2014, two girls’ softball squads field by Downtown Little League captured the State Champion titles in their respective divisions. (Many of the girls from both teams are students at the school.) Millennium’s student population is also 60 percent girls, and the school has made an explicit goal of bringing itself into compliance with federal Title IX rules, which mandate equality of opportunity in girls’ sports.
“We’re not Title IX-compliant right now, because we have more opportunities for boys than girls,” explains coach Friedman. “For example, we currently have a boys baseball team, but no softball for girls. And we wanted to fix that.” He notes that having a girls’ softball team will bring Millennium into compliance with one threshold of the Title IX requirements: “We will then have an equal number of teams for both genders,” he explains. (Currently, Millennium fields girls’ teams in fencing, swimming, volleyball, basketball, cross country, and table tennis.) “Add softball to our lineup will make us one of the few high schools in New York City that offers the same number of opportunities to male and female athletes.”