2012-09-26 / Sports

State championship rings worth more than the price tag

By Jim McConnell

When longtime Midlothian High cross-country coach Stan Morgan looks at the state championship rings he keeps on a shelf at home, he doesn’t see flashy jewelry.

Morgan, who has led the Trojans to 10 state titles, doesn’t have to wear the baubles to be proud of what they represent.

Every ring is a reminder of the young people who have run for him over the years and made the sacrifices necessary to build Midlothian into one of the nation’s perennial high school cross-country powers.

“I think of the kids on those teams and how fortunate I’ve been, to have kids who work hard and want to be as successful as our teams have been in the past,” Morgan said. “Everything we’ve done has built off that.”

Championship rings used to be the exclusive province of professional athletes, whose teams could afford to spend thousands of dollars apiece on massive, intricately carved rings adorned with clusters of diamonds.

High school athletes in individual sports were content with medals and championship teams earned the right to hang a banner on the wall of the school gymnasium.

That began to change locally in the early 1990s. Cosby High baseball coach Tim Lowery still wears the state championship ring he earned by leading Clover Hill High to the Group AAA baseball title in 1994.

Since then, county high schools have won state titles in a variety of sports. James River won back-to-back championships in both baseball and boys volleyball. Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook both claimed the ultimate prize in football. Then there’s Midlothian, which has six titles in girls cross-country and four more on the boys side.

Purchasing state championship rings is “an added expense,” James River activities director Tim Llewellyn acknowledged, “but it’s nice to have to do it because it means your team has been successful.”

During the 2011-12 school year alone, Cosby won titles in cheerleading, girls indoor track, girls soccer and softball. Brett Moorhead also earned his first state championship in boys tennis.

The Titans celebrated those performances with a pep rally Sept. 14, during which Moorhead and the players from the girls soccer and softball squads were presented with the championship rings they earned last spring.

“The rings are a very nice keepsake for those kids,” Cosby activities director Ted Salmon said.

High school state championship rings aren’t nearly as elaborate as the rings worn by Super Bowl champion football teams, but that doesn‘t mean they‘re inexpensive. So, in an era of shrinking budgets, how do local schools avoid breaking the bank while still honoring their most successful athletes?

After Meadowbrook won the Group AAA, Division 5 state football title in 2004, the Chesterfield Education Foundation played an active role in lining up local sponsors who chipped in money to fund the Monarchs’ rings.

That was a unique case, though; the county school system only intervened because many of Meadowbrook’s players lived in challenging financial situations and weren’t able to afford to purchase their own rings.

For other local state championship squads, athletic booster clubs typically reimburse schools a fraction (usually $50) of the total cost of each ring; the athletes and/or their parents pick up most of the tab.

“We’re very thankful and fortunate that we have people who are active in our boosters and help support our kids,” Midlothian activities director David Cooper said. “Schools that don’t have that … I don’t know how they fund their awards.”

As with class rings, the price of a state championship ring varies, depending on the options chosen by the purchaser. Some stones are more expensive than others; similarly, gold costs more than the other available metals.

With assistance from ring manufacturer representatives – and guidance from their coaches and administrators – players from the championship team are largely able to determine the final design of their rings.

“We try to narrow down the choices,” Llewellyn said. “If you give kids 100 different options, they’ll want 100 different rings.”

All those different options come at a price – and not all families have several hundreds of dollars lying around to purchase a fancy championship ring.

In Chesterfield, school system administrators meet regularly with activities directors from the county’s high schools. Keeping the cost of championship rings reasonably affordable is just one of the many topics of discussion.

“There’s nothing in writing; it’s more an understanding that this is what’s appropriate,” said Joe Tylus, director of high school education for Chesterfield County Public Schools.

Added Salmon: “It’s a balance thing. We all work together to make sure we’re doing the right thing and keeping it reasonable for everybody.”

While the total price tag for a state championship ring typically doesn’t exceed $200, what the jewelry represents is priceless to the coaches and athletes who earn it.

“Medals usually just go in a display,” said Morgan, the coach who‘s won more state titles than anyone else in Chesterfield. “A ring is special because it’s something you can wear and be proud of.”

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