With tournaments spanning the country, members of a 16 and Under softball organization team up with a local restaurant and trade in their gloves to wait tables to raise money for their travels.
by Danielle Catalano
One look at The Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Express's schedule, and you know this isn't your typical community softball organization. "We consider ourselves to be one of the premier softball programs in the area, participating in the most competitive tournaments and traveling all across the country to do so," says Head Coach Neil DeMaio. "Most travel programs just stay in their region, but we have traveled to California, Colorado, Virginia, Washington, Florida, and the Carolinas. Our coaches also attend special clinics and participate in a lot of training to ensure that we are up on the latest ideas in fastpitch softball. We pride ourselves on having a large percentage of our girls go on to play at the college level."
DeMaio is a member of the organization's board of directors and coaches the 16 and Under team of the Express, one of six teams10U to 23Uin the year-round program. Each spring $19,500 to $30,000 has to be raised to cover the cost of tournament fees, travel expenses (such as meals, airfare, car rentals, and gasoline) insurance, general operating costs, equipment, uniforms, and the biggest expense: the winter rental of a dome for practices. "We are in the Northeast, so once November starts, we move indoors through the end of March," says DeMaio
The teams rely on many community fundraisers to reach their goals. One such event for the 16U team is a restaurant fundraiser, where the players wait tables at a local family restaurant and earn a percentage of the day's profits. "Our players work hard all year to be the best they can be," DeMaio says "We are very community oriented and are asked at various times during the year to participate in many local fundraising and community service activities in addition to our Express fundraising."
ALL FOR ONETHEN TO EACH ITS OWN
The team's level of competitiveness is directly related to Express fundraising. After registration ends in September, teams are selected, and the board decides which tournaments the teams will participate in and lets each head coach know how much money needs to be raised. DeMaio says the higher the age level, the more competitive the tournaments, the more travel a team does, and the more expenses accumulate.
Fundraising, as a whole for the organization, begins immediately after the tournament schedule is released. Each team has a fundraising coordinator, who works under the organization's fundraising director. From September to Jan. 31, all money raised is deposited into the organization's treasury and shared among the six teams' general funds. "Our coordinators work hard all year to come up with innovative and worthwhile activities for the girls," DeMaio says. "We sell candy, candles, greeting cards, raffles, silent auctions, dinner dancesall the traditional things every youth sports group sells. We also do 'coin drops' where the girls will gather at a local store with photos of their team and tell anyone who will listen about how much they love softball, and hope for donations."
If the money raised during this period does not cover all of the six teams' expenses, they must raise the money individually, starting Feb. 1. Each player is responsible for raising her share of her team's remaining funds. "For example, if the team needs $13,000 for its season and there are 13 players on the team, then each girl will have to raise $1,000," explains DeMaio. The team's fundraising coordinator is responsible for monitoring the team's accounts as well as setting up and keeping track of each player's account.
"We have numerous ways to fundraise the money so that parents don't have to pay for their daughter's team expenses," DeMaio says, "and that is why we do the restaurant fundraiser."
HELP FROM UNCLE HENRY
The team's restaurant fundraiser takes place at Uncle Henry's family restaurant in Harrison, N.Y. "The idea actually came from the restaurant's owner, Rosann, whose granddaughter plays on my team," says DeMaio.
One Saturday in early spring, Rosann allows the team to perform the restaurant's waitressing duties. She donates 10 percent of the profits to the team and lets the members keep all the tip money. To further engage their patrons, the team conducts 50-50 raffles in the restaurant until closing. According to DeMaio, half the team works the lunch shift (12 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and the other half works the dinner shift (5 p.m. to 10 p.m.).
"Our players are asked what shift they want to worksome actually work bothand are expected to show up a half-hour before the start of their shift to go over some rules, the menu, and how to perform their job," explains DeMaio. "Some are experts by now, but every year we have several new players, and they are shown where everything is. Everyone is then given order pads and pens and they're ready to work.
"They let all their customers know they are working for Hudson Valley Express as a fundraiser and give them a fair warning that they are not professional waitresses," he adds, noting that the only waitress duty the players are not allowed to perform is serving alcohol, a service which parent volunteers take care of. As for special uniforms, none are required, but players wear either their Express practice jersey or one of their uniform shirts so that everyone sees the name.
The team raises between $1,300 and $1,500 each time they conduct this fundraiser, and the money is split evenly among all who work. "If 13 girls work one shift each, the money gets divided evenly 13 ways," DeMaio says. "If one of the players works a double shift, the money gets divided 14 ways, and that player gets two shares of the money, while everyone else gets one." Each player's share is deposited into her account.
"We generally hold the event in March because it is before the softball season starts and our weekends are freer," DeMaio says. "It is also a good time for the restaurant, so it works out both ways."
Surprisingly, picking which weekend in March to conduct the fundraiser is the hardest part of all of this. "The girls are very active, so finding a Saturday when they are all free is difficult," DeMaio says. "The restaurant will give us a number of dates to choose from, and we pick the one when the most girls are available. Once the date is set, the restaurant gives its wait staff the day off and that's about it on their part. Rosann's only request is that we advertise to draw in business."
The players are more than willing to oblige. The team creates flyers with all of the fundraising information: restaurant name, address, date, times, and what the fundraiser is about. The flyers are distributed to local newspapers and hung up in local storefronts. "We also have a vast e-mail list of families we send the flyer to," he says. All families are then asked to send the flyer to their friends and other family members. The restaurant also has signs up for several weeks before the event."
"Honestly, the girls seem to look forward to this event," says DeMaio. "They have a lot of fun and all seem to enjoy doing it. It is often difficult to get girls of this age to participate in some of the fundraising activities, but with this one, we have no problems getting them all to attend.
He says the restaurant's patrons also look forward to the fundraiser. "Other than weather holding some people back this year, it's gotten more and more crowded each time we've done it."
Over the years, DeMaio has taken note as to how this type of fundraising has affected his players' attitude: They're more patient and tolerant with others and themselves, and DeMaio believes this skill will assist them beyond their playing years.
When asked why this fundraiser is popular, he says it's how the team and their families work as a unit off the field that appeals to many in the community, even when accidents happen when servicing the restaurant patrons. "The only way this fundraiser can be successful is for all the girls to participate and be positive. It's also important for the families to be involved by getting the word out to their friends and relatives," he says.
For more information about the Hudson Valley Express softball program, please visit: www.hudsonvalleyexpress.com.