A plan to seek corporate sponsorship for some Maryland public high school athletic programs was approved last week by 23 local school superintendents.

"We have felt like we needed some sponsorship," said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association. "Our budget has been about a half-million dollars, and it has been that way since about 1984, but our costs keep going up. In addition, we have added some non-revenue-producing sports. We felt you could always raise ticket prices, but then you are putting the burden back on the students and their families."

At a meeting yesterday with area jurisdiction athletic directors and writers and editors of The Washington Post, Sparks said getting approval to proceed was a formality.

"That was the easy part," he said. "Now the hard part is finding somebody who wants to sponsor the programs."

Two years ago the Virginia High School League started accepting sponsors to provide various types of support.

After being named athletic director of the D.C. Public Schools Interhigh League last winter, Sam Jones said a major goal was to obtain corporate sponsorship. He so far has been unsuccessful -- not in finding sponsors, but in gaining approval from the city's board of education.

Jones said yesterday he had worked out a tentative agreement with a soft drink company, but the board would not approve the deal because it was concerned with the product's nutritional value.

Jones also said he was confident he could obtain sponsorship from a beer company, but he has not pursued it because he did not think it would be approved.

"I know I could get the money from some people, but they don't sell the right products," he said.

Sparks said that considerable thought has gone into what type of sponsors Maryland will accept, and what sponsors would get for their contributions.

"There will be no advertisements on the youngsters. We will not make them walking billboards," he said. "We are thinking more in terms of banners at the event, programs, maybe having the ticket-takers wear some kind of logo -- that type of thing."

Sparks said the sponsorship would not evolve into adding a corporate name to a state championship tournament, such as is done with college football bowl games and professional golf and tennis tournaments.

"We will not sell our souls," Sparks said. "We will not lose our integrity."

Larry Johnson of the VHSL said its program was much smaller than programs in North Carolina and California.

For two years Gatorade has provided coolers and drinks at all VHSL championship events. Central Fidelity Bank has paid for championship awards and trophies. Rawlings has supplied baseballs and basketballs for championships. Campus Productions has handled merchandising of items such as T-shirts at tournaments, in addition to making a direct contribution to the VHSL.

Last season Domino's Pizza helped pay expenses at the VHSL track championships. In return, a corporate banner was placed at the site and Domino's shirts, hats and discount pizza coupons were distributed. Johnson said the VHSL is hopeful Domino's will make a similar commitment this season.

"I think we are happy with the way things have gone, but two years ago, after we got three or four sponsors, the executive committee decided we would back off further ones and see how these worked," Johnson said.

"At the end of this year, the executive committee will review everything and see what direction it wants to go."

Johnson said he expects the VHSL to continue pursuing sponsors.

"A lot of states are like us," he said. "You would rather not have {outside sponsors}, but the realities are we will probably not go back to not having them."