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By Laura Smith - Assistant Editor at MomentumMedia Sports Publishing.

A newly consolidated booster club saves an Ohio high school's sports program from being cancelled.

In May 2005, residents of Medina County, Ohio, returned a "no" vote on the school budget. Athletic Director Ken Woodruff of Medina's Buckeye High School was told that all sports would have to be cut.

Luckily, though, Buckeye High School had a dedicated group of boosters, and the group asked the school board if they could attempt to save the program, starting with fall sports.

The move was unprecedented in Ohio, but the board agreed to let the boosters try. The caveat was, however, that they had to raise the entire cost of fall sports. The group needed to have $60,000 up front and another $25,000 in escrow by the start of school. They had five weeks.

Woodruff's first move was to merge two formerly independent booster groups for band and athletics into the Buckeye Consolidated Boosters. Each sport retained its own parent group with representation to the whole. He then handpicked a five-member committee, which served as liaison among volunteers, Woodruff, and the board of education. Its job was to do the heavy lifting when it came to planning fundraisers and delegating tasks.

Getting the word out on their plight was the committee's first strategy. "The key element here was the sense of urgency, and we had to communicate that to the public," Woodruff says. "We immediately launched a media campaign. I made sure to talk to newspapers as often as I could. We asked them to donate full-page ads and they did so about once a week. That really helped, because we started getting donations right away. Booster clubs from other schools even sent us money."

Next, Woodruff helped the group plan its first major fundraiser, a golf outing that raised $35,000. Choosing the right volunteers to spearhead the event was critical to its success. "I am not a golfer," Woodruff says. "But I found parents who are very into golf, and I also found a parent who is an event planner by profession. I put them together and it worked."

Thanks to the event planner, the day evolved from simply a golf outing into a community day with activities for kids and non-golfers as well. The theme was "Survivor," based on the popular television show, and coordinators planned a Hawai'ian luau, a silent auction, and 50/50 raffles. A local rock-and-roll band gave a concert, and a fireworks display provided a finishing touch.

From there, the boosters planned a series of smaller fundraisers. "Our goal was to have unique events that would pique people's interest," Woodruff says. "For example, we held an auction called Bucks for Bucks where our student-athletes were up for sale. The auctioneer read a card that said, 'Here are Tom, Jim, and Joe. They are willing to cut grass, clean basements, etc.' People really liked the fact that the kids were working to help themselves, and meeting the athletes made community members feel connected to the people they were helping."

Woodruff also invented a way for individual athletes to benefit from their own efforts. "We set up a voucher system," he explains. "Let's say five kids work at a car wash and it raises $100. Each of them gets a slip of paper that says they have a $20 voucher toward their pay-to-play fee. The parent group for that sport keeps the money, and when it comes time for that athlete to pay his fee, he turns in his voucher along with his fee. I turn the voucher in to the parent group and they write a $20 check.

"That really helped, because we had to increase our pay-to-play fee to $365 per athlete," Woodruff adds. "Our fall and winter sports generated $123,185 in participation fees, but almost $29,000 of that was in vouchers. Eighteen kids were able to pay their entire fee that way."

Woodruff also worked hard to get scholarship donations for athletes who couldn't afford the larger participation fee, with a $6,000 response. "We were afraid we'd see a drop in participation with the larger fee, but between the vouchers and donations, we actually saw an increase in participation," he says.

The sport-specific parent groups helped with smaller expenses. "We put in a rule that anytime a coach needs anything—a basketball, a soccer ball—they go to their parent group," Woodruff says. "That saves us a lot of money."

By the deadline, the boosters handed over $60,000 to the school board and the required $25,000 was safely in escrow. The football team went 10-0, the girls' volleyball team notched the most wins in program's history, and the girls' soccer team was one win away from going to the state tournament.

"None of that would have happened if it wasn't for this group of boosters," Woodruff says. "This crisis pulled our community together."

His final piece of advice? Work on creating strong connections in your community before you need them. "I've been here a long time and I've had the time to create ties with people," he says. "But even if you're new to your school, start building relationships and figure out which parents you can count on. The reason we were successful in averting this crisis is because I knew who to pull together to make it work."



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