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Pressing To Complete A Mission Near-Impossible

By Danielle Catalano - writer for

$65,000 raised in less than two months saves a school's fall sports program.

It's two months before school starts, there's a $65,000 budget hole, and the board of education doesn't accept credit cards. The grim reality of sports, economics, and politics.

In June, when a school budget vote failed for the second time, the Spencer-Van Etten (S-VE) Board of Education in upstate New York was forced to cut all non-mandatory programs from the 2005-06 school year, including all varsity, junior varsity, and modified (middle school) sports. In order for 450 high school students to have sports and play in the fall, $65,000 had to be raised by August 15. Although extraordinary to some, the figure wasn't even half of the $165,000 necessary to preserve the entire 2005-06 sports programs.

"We've had budget issues here several times, and the board has talked about cutting non-mandated programs," says S-VE Athletic Director Larry Giewont, "but it was always resolved. This is the first time the board went through with it. But they had no choice—there was no room in the budget to move anything."

Thus, the Friends of S-VE stepped in.

The Friends of S-VE is district's official athletic booster club. It was born in May of 2005 when the first budget proposal failed. Concerned parents, coaches, athletes, community members, and school officials agreed to combine all sport-specific booster clubs into one, making it easier to raise funds should the vote fail a second time. Three chairpersons and Giewont run the 30-member group, which has representatives from each sport.

The second vote fell 125 votes shy of approval, and the school board followed though with the cuts. Within hours, three members of the fundraising committee of the Friends of S-VE e-mailed press releases to every media outlet in New York, publicizing the group's fundraising efforts. A week later, the committee followed up with another press release. The hope was—and still is—that the press coverage would stir up enough attention to draw outside funds, ideas, and support.

"We have to outreach because we're so small," notes Friends of S-VE Chairperson Grant Vennel, Jr. "People have heard about the cause and just want to help."

According to Giewont and Friends of S-VE Chairperson Carla Harringer, at least five newspapers, two television stations, and one radio station have covered their booster club events. Giewont is pleased that the initial press releases "did their thing," and that members of the media have been calling the fundraising committee on a regular basis.

Harringer agrees. "I'm amazed. It's been energizing. The newspapers have continued to send reporters, and the other media have been in constant contact, wanting to know what's been going on."

Giewont and Harringer believe that this exposure is part of the reason why school districts in a 20-mile radius have shared fundraising ideas and have even offered money. Public-access television coverage helped the booster club earn more money when it broadcast a report on an anonymous donor challenge to the public. For every $1,000 the club raised, this donor would contribute $1,000 of his own money to Friends of S-VE, up to $10,000. Other fundraising efforts making the news included helmet drops, bake sales, community dinners, car washes, and T-shirt sales.

In August, the club will participate in the community's Spencer Picnic with a $100 50/50 drawings, a car raffle, car washes, and ice cream socials. Silent and celebrity sports memorabilia auctions and a three-on-three basketball tournament are set for late summer.

With a total population of about 4,500 people in the Spencer-Van Etten district, the club decided early on to hold about half of the scheduled fundraisers outside these small communities for two reasons. The first was to have access to a larger population. As an example, the surrounding cities of Elmira and Ithaca have close to 30,000 residents each. The second reason was to make sure that other youth groups in the area wouldn't have to compete with the athletic booster club for fundraising dollars.

The push to get the word out to residents in the surrounding cities has resulted in very big profits. So much so, that the $65,000 goal was reached with two weeks to spare.

Overall, Harringer believes that to have success it is better for booster clubs to inform the public as much as possible about their causes. "It's takes a lot of networking, a lot of knowing people, and a lot of talking to people," she says.

Giewont agrees. "People have been very passionate, and have stepped forward. It's been pretty amazing. There are a lot of people with a lot of creative ideas working hard. It's a real credit to the community."

For more information on Friends of S-VE and its fundraising efforts, please contact S-VE Athletic Director Larry Giewont at (607) 589-7253. is brought to you by a recognized and established name in the school athletics arena, MomentumMedia—publisher of Athletic Management, Coaching Management and Training & Conditioning magazines.