Not everyone is watching the players on the field.
That’s because volunteers at the high school soccer and football games are too busy selling sweatshirts, popcorn and coffee to eager fans.
Selling concessions before and during home games generates thousands of dollars for the West De Pere Booster Club and others like it at area high schools. That money goes toward new equipment as well as improvements to fields and spectator stands. As school district budgets get squeezed increasingly tighter, both schools and boosters say the clubs play a vital role in maintaining sports operations and other co-curricular student activities.
“They raise thousands of dollars we otherwise wouldn’t have to spend on equipment or improved facilities,” said Willie Birkholz, athletic director at Green Bay’s Southwest High School where the booster club has raised about $250,000 since 2009.
Parents and sports fans — those who most often support booster clubs — say they realize their fundraising has taken on new significance as school districts watch the bottom line. Local school districts haven’t significantly trimmed the athletics budgets, but also expect departments to closely watch costs.
Mark Champion has two daughters who attend Green Bay’s Southwest High School and play sports. He’s been president of the school’s booster club for two years and a member for four.
“I’ve come from a long history of family involvement in boosters,” he said “It’s a great way to get more involved with schools. It helps give all of our students the opportunity to participate in extracurriculars.”
Meeting student needs
Like many other booster clubs in the area, the organization at Southwest doesn’t limit its fundraising efforts to a specific sports team or even just athletics.
“I think our booster club has been very generous, and we need the supplemental income,” Birkholz said. “They help with facility upgrades and new projects. They make my job, to find money to do these things, much easier.
“And it’s not limited to athletics. They raised funds for the marquee board outside the school which is used for everything. They do a lot for the school in general.”
The club at Southwest has helped pay for upgrades such as additional seating at the baseball and football stadium. It also went toward a handful of new facilities, including a stadium concession stand, an electronic marquee, baseball field restrooms, a ticket booth at the stadium, a tennis viewing structure and a new stadium field surface.
“Whatever they need, we try to help them out,” Champion said. “I don’t think we’ve ever turned away a request for a legitimate need.”
The Southwest Booster Club, like others in the area, also provides gifts ranging from $500 to $3,000 to coaches to buy things the Green Bay School District won’t cover. Coaches can make requests every other year, so, for example, the girls’ basketball team receives help one year an the boys’ basketball team the next.
“In order for the district to run programs, they receive a stipend from the district, but those aren’t always enough,” Birkholz said.
This year, for example, the club purchased pole vault standards –the brackets and braces used by pole vaulters.
“That is something that they obviously need, that would not be supplied by the district,” Champion said. “Sometimes we want to go beyond what’s offered by the district. They may think three balls are sufficient for practice, but the coach may want more. We want to do what will help the coaches do better. If it’s a ‘need’ it’s pretty much granted.”
Champion said needs have grown in the past several years.
“Every school is asked to do more with less,” he said. “Things get put on the back burner. For us, that’s more of an incentive to do more fundraising so we can provide more without saying ‘no.'”
West De Pere High School’s Booster Club raises funds for all athletics teams rather than splintering into groups which support specific sports.
“It’s more efficient that way,” said Pasterski, president of the group that raises most of its funds by selling concessions at home games.
The club recently pledged $50,000 to pay for new field turf over the next five years.
“It will be used by lots of students, for phys ed, football, the marching band, soccer,” Pasterski said. “The new turf also will allow us to host playoff games, so we can sell concessions even if we don’t play in the games.”
And that will mean more revenue for the club to purchase items to help the school, she said.
The club goes out of its way to help students however it can, she said. Those efforts include banquets for athletes and coaches, scholarships for graduating athletes and conference awards for some athletes., as well as a traveling to watch a hockey game, she said.
The club helps individual teams by providing $10 per athlete per sport, Pasterski said, which coaches can spend as needed. In addition, the booster club will work to meet special requests, such as a recent purchase of headphones for football coaches.
Pulaski High School has the Red Raiders Booster Club and a smaller wrestling booster club, as well as a band booster club. Last year, the Red Raiders club worked to help raise $7,000 for a new score table and board for the high school gym. Local businesses chipped in another $14,000 for the project.
The club also helped raise $25,000 for the high school fitness center. The project began in 2008 and will be paid in full next year.
The wrestling booster club raised just under $7,000 for clocks and about $9,000 for new mats in 2012, according to Jerad Marsh, athletics director for Pulaski High School.
“These are things that really do help us,” he said. “Maybe it’s something you don’t need, but it really, really is needed to make things better. As the style of equipment gets better, it gets more expensive, and the club steps up to offset the differences in costs. As budgets tighten up, we need them.”
New ways to donate
While many booster clubs raise revenues by selling concessions and school apparel, some get a little more creative.
This year, the Southwest Booster Club is raffling a car to raise funds. Through mid December, the booster club hopes to raise $5,000 to $10,000 by selling $10 tickets for the chance to win a 2012 Toyota Corolla and cash prizes, Champion said.
Southwest has four different main fundraising events: an annual golf outing, a craft fair, concession stands and a $25 annual membership for families who belong to the booster club.
The West De Pere club raises funds mostly by selling concessions and its annual Phantom Booster Bash held in fall. But booster
clubs are innovative in finding ways to raise funds, Birkholz said.
“We try to limit solicitation by kids,” he said. “One thing we want to avoid is going our door to door. We don’t want to put kids in that position.
“I think our booster club has been very equitable and fair. They’re looking out for Southwest High School and not one particular group. Certainly booster clubs are needed, they help buy things we otherwise would not be able to purchase.”