Becky Bryant just wanted to be involved and help McKay High School student-athletes.
Like many parents in the Salem-Keizer area, she thought joining the high school booster club was a way to make a difference.
“I grew up in a small town, Waldport, Oregon, and we had a very active athletic booster club,” Bryant said. “And to me, it was just part of the normal high school experience. Parents were involved and helped out.”
Only one problem: There was no McKay booster club.
The Great Recession threw much of the country for a loop, including the lower income community surrounding McKay. From 2010 to 2015, parents and teachers had bigger things to worry about than a booster club.
“The real focus was on academics at that time, to improve our student achievement,” said McKay Principal Sara LeRoy. “So it didn’t hit the top of the priority list. We needed to get our academics up, we needed to improve attendance, we needed to improve the dropout rate.”
By 2015, Bryant had a daughter who was about to start at McKay. And she began asking questions about starting a booster club.
An initial meeting to gauge interest in the club drew “a room full of people,” Bryant said. “And it just kind of rolled from there.”
Little more than a year later, the booster club has been revived and it’s tackling the biggest of projects — a new artificial turf field for football and other uses.
“We are absolutely pushing for that turf field to be in before next football season,” Bryant said. “We are hoping to break ground late spring. We want this to happen. We’re very excited, and my goal is to not push it off.”
McKay is the only school in the Salem-Keizer district that still uses a grass football field. There are times the marching band can’t go out on the field, and the football team can’t use it for practice.
“We would really like to have a field that’s for sports, it’s for band, we can have community events held there,” Bryant said. “And that’s really our whole focus.”
It’s an expensive project that takes a variety of donations, not just cash.
“The budget mark is $900,000. It’s not all needed to be cash in the bank, but the more cash the better,” Bryant said. “But we’re also looking for trucking companies or fuel companies who will donate fuel for the truck, you know. Or gravel companies.”
The economic demographics of the McKay community are different from other schools in the district.
In the 2015-16 school year, the latest data available, McKay’s percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch was high enough to offer lunch to all students. Same with North Salem High School.
By contrast, Sprague High School — which installed its artificial turf field in 2007 — had the lowest percentage of students considered economically disadvantaged at 34 percent.
Yet, when Bryant helped revive the booster club and began raising money for the new field, who reached out to help?
Bill McNutt, the special projects coordinator with the Sprague booster club. And Danielle Bethell, McNary’s booster club president. Bethell is a McKay graduate who attended meetings with Bryant for half a year.
“Sara LeRoy and I met last fall, actually right around the time I was finishing up the turf project here at McNary, and I started asking her about the plans for McKay,” Bethell said.
During the Sprague-McKay football game in the fall, Sprague parents and fans raised more than $1,900 to help McKay in its effort to build an artificial turf field. And the Sprague booster club has continued to help McKay.
“It would be great to see McKay get that,” McNutt said
Filling a gap
McKay principal LeRoy said the absence of a booster club was difficult for the school.
“It was a void financially. Because then all you have is the money here in the building and the money the kids raise on their own through various fundraisers, so that really put us at a disadvantage, and we’re already a school that is economically disadvantaged,” she said.
Given the economic reality, bringing back an athletic booster club was not always a top priority. After the five-year absence, when she was approached about bringing back a booster club, LeRoy was excited.
“I had the opportunity to say, ‘and we need (a booster club).’ This is what we need for kids, too,” LeRoy said. “This is a really important part of the school.”
Although the club exists, which was a big first step, it is still working to increase participation.
“It’s still a slow process,” LeRoy said. “We’re still very new, and they’re getting themselves out there, and recruiting more parents.”
While McKay’s booster club searches for ways to grow, it also is planning long-term goals to help ensure its viability in the future.
“We want to establish a booster club that doesn’t go away in the future,” Bryant said. “So we want to establish a one-year plan, a five-year plan, a 10-year plan, and what things can we do to ensure that there is always a group here to support the school.”
Help from across the district
It has been a collective effort in Salem to bring a turf field to McKay.
“We’ve had a lot of support, people guiding us to take on this big project,” Bryant said. “We find that it’s an essential project here. I’ve learned about field use, meaning when you have a grass field, especially as McKay does with the water and drainage issues, our students are limited.”
Bryant said she appreciates the help she is getting from all across the Salem-Keizer area.
“Whenever I call any of the schools, they will give advice, they will help out,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without any of the other schools.”
The benefits reach beyond school walls.
Not only would the field be a major step up for the various teams and student groups who will use it, but it also will serve as a source of pride for the McKay community.
“They are working hard on the turf field project, which is a great project to bring the community behind us. It’s something tangible that the kids can see,” LeRoy said. “Our kids work so hard. And it would be just a sense of pride to be able to say ‘we have a really nice facility too.’”
Through all the stress that she has endured, Bryant said she enjoys helping the students.
“You know, it’s a lot of work, but the one thing I can really say is I do love it,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to fall in love with 2,500 kids. They are all unique individuals. You get to know these kids. It’s about these kids knowing that we’re here for them.”
A LOOK AT THE OTHER SALEM-KEIZER BOOSTER CLUBS
- Reaction from the Keizer community when McNary put in its artificial field in 2015, “Overwhelming, oh my gosh. We have the best excitement — people love it, it’s beautiful,” McNary booster club president Danielle Bethell said. “When you look down on it, it just sparkles. When the lights come on, it just gives you that warm feeling. And because everybody here knows that it took contributions of $5 to $100,000 over the course of a year to get it done. And these kids, they really do appreciate it.”
- McNary recently worked on other athletic upgrades. “We just did the gymnasium, in partnership with the school district,” Bethell said. “We painted all the areas of the gymnasium and the wrestling room, and then we redid the floors, put new logos on it. It looks beautiful.”
- What’s in the future? “I would like to get a new scoreboard for out here (football stadium), which is about a $40,000 effort,” she said. “And I would like to see the wrestling team receive new mats — it’s about $18,000.”
- At Sprague High School, boosters are finding creative ways to expand opportunities for athletes and non-athletes alike, through the use of technology, such as a recently installed video board in the gym which serves multiple purposes throughout the school year. “The great thing is that Sprague students are running it,” said Bill McNutt, who is the special projects coordinator with the Sprague booster club. “They’re running the video gear that goes to that. It gets maybe a different demographic to the game.”
- The boosters plan to keep that theme as future football stadium enhancements would include a video board.
- David Brown, Sprague’s booster club president, said the goal is to enhance the student experience, ““It’s about the students and the time they spend here to really walk away from it their senior year and go, ‘you know, we had a pretty good time there. And hopefully they’ll be able to return the investment later down the road. We don’t take it for granted at all. We are very fortunate to be in such a wonderful community, a school like this with parental support and administration support.”
North Salem Vikings
- At North Salem High School, the athletic booster club is not as big as it has been in the past, but new president Melissa Mason is hoping to change that. “We are a much smaller booster club than we used to be,” Mason said. “Our goals this year center around increasing parent participation. It would be nice to get back to the size we used to be.”
- The club had fewer than 10 participants in the fall, but Mason said that she appreciates the support she has now, and she believes they can build the club in the future. “I am blessed to have a few amazing booster parents that have been giving a lot of their time for years,” Mason said. “They will be instrumental as we continue to build the booster club.”
- What are current projects being worked on? “We are assisting the Viking Alumni Association with the fundraising for the new weight room. We have one of the oldest in the district,” Mason said. “Unfortunately, our equipment is tattered, broken or rusted. Many of our student-athletes and non-athletes depend on the use of the weight room. Some are using it to rehabilitate injuries, others use it for health improvements. We are hopeful that through donations, we will have enough funding to replace the floor and equipment this year.”
West Salem Titans
- At West Salem High School, the booster club has worked to upgrade a number of things to help enhance the experience at games, particularly football games. “We have a new scoreboard, and we worked on a new Titan touchdown sound,” said Rhonda Kizer of the West Salem booster club. “Every time we score a touchdown that will come out of the speaker. Everything is so high-tech now and wireless. We purchased two fog machines and an inflatable helmet tunnel. I think that was the first project I worked on when I first took over football boosters, so we’ve had that for a couple of years. So it’s basically just adding accessories to that.”
- With the popularity of high school football, Kizer said that much of what they do is staging events to improve the fan experience at games. “Basically each Friday, we work on staging events now. High school football has really changed in terms of the show part of it,” Kizer said. “I think college sports have sort of trickled down to high school sports.”
- Other projects include a new jumbotron for the gym. “It’ll be new this year,” Kizer said. “We purchased it, interesting story, from U of O. When they had the track, the Olympic Trials, so one of our booster board members happened to be down there staging security for it, and they were selling the TVs at the end of the event. They had like 75-, 85-inch screens that they were selling. We happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
South Salem Saxons
- At South Salem, the big fundraiser every year is the auction, but a decision has been made to shift the auction from the winter to fall, and in order to have enough time to make that happen, the next auction will be in the fall of 2017. In the last auction, the club was able to bring in and allocate out about $20,000, but the club hopes to bring in more. “We want to make as much money as possible for the sports programs, and each year it kind of fluctuates,” said booster club treasurer Jennifer Ellis, who said they were hoping to be closer to $30,000. “It didn’t happen just because we picked a date (for the auction) that ended up having so many different activities at our school that we didn’t get the attendance we were hoping for.”
- The club voted to move the auction from winter to fall. “We’re moving our auction into the fall, which coaches feel in the past over history that the fall is a better time than the middle of winter,” Ellis said. “So we are actually skipping this year and we’re going to move it to October of 2017. So our goals for that are pretty huge. We’d love to be able to hit that $30,000 mark.”
- One of the current big projects that South Salem is working on is replacing the basketball hoops in the gym. “One of the projects we’ve been working on for a couple years now is we want to replace our basketball hoops on the main court to something that moves to get out of the way volleyball,” said Sunny Vogt, who is the South Salem booster club’s secretary. “They’re an obstruction for volleyball. So trying to get the more advanced hoops that can either raise or swing to the side, so we can get those out of the way.”