A Bracelet worth $650,000 was handed over Tuesday to the Utah High School Activities Association. Funny thing is, when UHSAA officials returned Bracelet back to its rightful owner they got to keep the $650,000.

Bracelet, by the way, is a Holstein cow ready to calve sometime in the next two weeks. But what made the dairy cow so valuable wasn't the milk or the calf she was carrying but the huge blanket-sized check written for $650,000 to the activities association.The six-digit figure is the three-year funding provided in a new tri-sponsorship arrangement, with First Security Bank, the Utah Dairy Commission and Hardee's of Utah now UHSSA sponsors. The financial support is similar to sponsorships now common for many athletic events, including college football bowl games and professional golf tournaments.

The three corporations will be paying annual rights fees ranging between $40,000 and $150,000 during the next three years. The funds will be used to finance state playoffs, tournaments and championships for the 20 UHSAA-sponsored competitions, as well as helping to reimburse schools and district for transportation-related expenes and even finance some of the non-revenue activities.

The new sponsorship agreement was announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Cottonwood High School, with balloons and Sousa-like marches underscoring the festive spirit.

Beere said the association's financial strains were no secret when he was appointed UHSAA executive director a year ago. The $700,000 annual budget was comprised by $300 membership dues exacted from the state's 105 schools and gate receipts from state tournaments - primarily football and basketball playoffs.

First Security Bank becomes a "major name sponsor" - the First Security name already is being inserted into UHSAA logos. The 80 annual state playoff and championship events will each be labeled as "UHSAA/First Security Bank Championships."

Meanwhile, the Utah Dairy Commission and Hardee's of Utah are considered "major supporting sponsor" and "official sponsor," respectively. Milk becomes the "official beverage" of the activities association, while Hardees is named the UHSAA's "official restaurant."

"You could not get a more compatible team than this," said Beere, adding that other potential sponsors were turned away.

Bracelet and the side-blanket check was an admitted gimmick to try and tie together all three sponsors. First Security has been running recent TV commercials showing checks written on out-of-the-ordinary items, while the cow was to represent the dairy commission and Hardee's - milk-related products, not beef for the latter sponsor, mind you.

Of the state's $877 million education budget, only $3.4 million - or less than two-fifths of 1 percent - is set aside for school activities and athletics at the school and district level. That figures to $62.61 per student, Beere said. "I want you to know that's a bargain . . . We hope to give the needed help, the needed helping hand to the students and school districts."

The sponsorship program coverages state playoffs and championship competition in sports such tennis, cross country, swimming, basketball, track, football, baseball, wrestling, soccer, volleyball and gymnastics. Also included are non-sports activities such as drill team, forensics, drama, and music - solo, ensemble and jazz.

The cooperative tri-sponsorship linking private enterprise and public education were patterned after similar relationships used by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and Oregon School Activities Association. All three sponsorship arrangments - the only three existing in the nation - were made by Don Baird and his School Properties USA Inc.

Three local sports figures served as dignitaries offering testimonials on behalf of the importance of high school athletics and activities.

Utah Jazz head coach Frank Layden recalled his days participating in prep sports and drama. "This might be the very most important classroom - the athletic field," said Layden, explaining that participants offered their hearts as well as their minds in extra-curricular activities. "Here all the lessons in life can be taught."

BYU assistant head basketball coach Roger Reid, who played high school basketball and baseball at Springville and later coached prep hoop teams in Payson and Clearfield, said the life-like situations and struggles associated with activity or athletic performance are the "kind of things you don't learn, I believe, sitting in a math class and leaving after an hour."

And NBA basketball player Fred Roberts recalled shedding some of his backwards image by associations in sports and choir. "If students have pride in their school, they have pride in themselves."