With O.J. Mayo on the team, North College Hill High had money.
NORTH COLLEGE HILL, Ohio (AP) -- One day after the news hit the papers, Joe Nickel's phone started ringing.
O.J. Mayo was transferring to North College Hill High School, and everyone wanted to talk to the athletic director about scheduling a basketball game for the upcoming season.
"As soon as the news hit that he was coming, that weekend I started getting calls from all over the place saying, 'I want to fly you to Jersey or Philly and pay you 2,000,"' Nickel said, during a recent interview in his cinderblock office. "I'm going, 'This is a gold mine."'
He had no idea.
In the next three seasons, the public high school made more than 100,000 in additional revenues off its basketball team, which won two state Division III titles. The school also learned firsthand what it's like to have prep stars on the floor.
Games were moved to bigger gyms to accommodate the crowds. Ticket restrictions were put in place to discourage scalpers. Reebok provided about 15,000 worth of shoes and uniforms for the basketball team.
Had enough money
And Nickel suddenly had enough money to keep the athletics program going without having to charge students to play.
"Fifty to 60 percent of the young people who come to our schools are on free or reduced lunch, so we do not have a lot of money in this community," said Nickel, in his 28th year as athletic director. "To do like some other school districts do -- pay to play -- would be devastating to our programs."
The school had considered tacking on a playing fee of up to 50 because of lagging support. The athletics budget is about 40,000 a year, not including transportation and coaches' salaries.
The boys' basketball program made only 8,000 the year before Mayo and friend Bill Walker arrived, which was 2,000 below the target amount.
Once they got to town, the money started rolling in.
The program made an average of about 50,000 for each of the three years that Mayo and Walker played. The additional funds allowed Nickel to scrap the thoughts of pay-to-play and start thinking seriously about replacing the grass-overgrown gravel track behind the gym, a 200,000 project.
Nickel was able to buy new uniforms for the soccer, volleyball, track and football teams ahead of schedule.