Imagine 15 of the best 12-year-old boys basketball players in the state riding to Florida in a van, cramming into three hotel rooms with their coaches, scrimping on food and then trying to win the national Amateur Athletic Union basketball championship.
That's what it was like in 1989 for Ben DuBose's Baltimore Bullets, the Maryland state championship 12-and-under AAU team.
"It was really tight," said DuBose, who this year coaches the 14- and 16-and-under boys state champion Baltimore Bullets. "Every morning I'd get up and go to the market and bring the boys back food for the day. We didn't have enough money to go out to restaurants.
"We were allowed to cook out down by the pool because we cooked in the room and set off the fire alarm. The kids didn't starve, but it wasn't fair that they had to go through what they did."
Raising money to travel to national tournaments has become increasingly difficult for AAU teams. AAU teams that win the state championship qualify for national tournaments, held at various locations across the country.
The average cost of a 10-day trip for a team of 12 athletes and two coaches is between $10,000 and $15,000, said Joe Gillespie, coach of The Waves, the girls 15-and-under state championship team.
"It's getting extremely difficult to raise the money because of the recession," said Gillespie, whose team leaves for the nationals in Amarillo, Texas, on July 24. "Typically we've raised money through car washes and candy sales, and we do go to businesses to the extent that we can be successful.
"In the past we've received some grants from several offices of economic opportunities. The government help, what there was of it, has come from the county but very little from the state. It's been more difficult because they have to do it for all of the teams, not just one."
Dan Galluzzo, a coach for the Harford Hoopsters, girls 16-and-under state champions, asked the city, county and state governments for money and came up empty.
"We went to every government agency and they all said the same thing -- there is nothing in the budget whatsoever," Galluzzo said. "It was quite apparent that the government wasn't going to do anything, so we were stuck."
Because government funds are dry, teams have turned to corporate sponsorship.
Galluzzo, whose Hoopsters leave today for the nationals in Clovis, N.M., sent a memo by fax and called local attorney Ron Shapiro, asking for a contribution. Shapiro, Robinson & Associates agreed to donate $1,000 to the team.
"They obviously needed some help," said Shapiro, president of the firm and agent for the Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. "I could tell that Dan was deeply committed to the kids' athletic futures and what sports could do for them. I had never met him, but what he was doing deeply touched me."
Each team going to the nationals is required by the AAU to have two sets of basketball shoes and two sets of uniforms. Converse donated shoes to Galluzzo's team through Marvin's Sports Center in Baltimore, along with travel bags and T-shirts, saving the team about $900.
"It's a win-win situation for both parties," said Billy Allen, an account executive for Converse. "We get the exposure at a national tournament because they are wearing our product, and they get new shoes, bags and T-shirts that they need. Sometimes you don't get anything in return, it's just a reward for good people trying to do good things."
The donations have helped, Galluzzo said, but they far from cover the total cost of the trip. AAU requires an allotment of $15 per day per athlete for food, plus travel and lodging costs. The team is staying at Eastern New Mexico University for $8 a night per girl.
While Galluzzo has focused on getting corporate sponsorships, the players have had to sell candy, wash cars, have shoot-a-thons where they shoot 100 free throws and ask for donations in addition to training for the tournament.
"It's taken a lot of time and effort and determination to get to this point because of the recession," said Sonia Chase, a guard for the Hoopsters and a rising junior at McDonogh School. "It's just really hard to get up in someone's face and say 'will you help support my team?'
"It didn't used to be hard when I was younger, but it's hard as a teen-ager. It takes a lot for me, at least, because I have a lot of pride and to get out there and beg, it's reality and it takes something out of you."
Erica McCauley, a prolific three-point shooter and teammate of Chase's, agreed.
"It's a hassle after a while," said McCauley, a rising senior at Mount Hebron High. "You have to go to the same people, and they get sick of it. But it should pay off. I want to sign early [a letter of intent with a college], and this is a good chance because a lot of college scouts will come and watch you play and see if they are interested in you or not."
Galluzzo said the exposure often pays off in college scholarships for area players.
"The coaches then come to Maryland and ask 'Who's producing this? Are there more like them? Can I go to one place to scout rather than travel up and down the East Coast?' So it does a lot for the state," he said.