Tourism Helps Grant Dream Track
When Tom Bundy dreams, he dreams big. Bundy is entering his 17th year as a head coach of the Astronaut High School boys' and girls' track and field teams in Titusville, Fla. For as long as he can rememberand he's an AHS alum, so he's been remembering for awhilehe's always wanted a rubber track for the school. Bundy's dream track, however, carried a price tag of well over $100,000.
"The first thing I did," Bundy says, "was place it on my Christmas wish list. Next, with the motivation of [volunteer] Sandy Myers, I started looking into the cost analysis of installing a rubber track."
by Danielle Catalano
In May 2003, Bundy's wish came true, and today, his student-athletes run on a certified polyurethane track that has attracted competition from as far away as Ohio and is the primary location for post-season championship meets. Several fundraising effortshome-meet concession sales, NASCAR vending commissions, a tourism grant, a letter-writing campaign, and a matching Pepsi USA grantand parent-volunteer support made Bundy's wish a reality.
Until that May, the track teams ran on asphalt. For the most part, the track drained well, and by the late '90s, the facility attracted up to 11 meets and invitationals a year, including the district and conference championships. "The administration likes us hosting meets because meets have a tendency to bring in money," Bundy says.
Between gate receipts and concession sales, Astronaut's home meets bring in anywhere from $700 to $2,000 per event. All the money raised goes toward team expenses such as uniforms, team travel, paying officials, and team equipment, including the program's electronic scoring systema commodity few schools in Astronaut's district have.
Also during the late '90s, other schools in Astronaut's athletic conference were upgrading their track surfaces to rubber. To retain the school's hosting appeal and stay competitive, Bundy knew AHS facilities needed to do the same. The final push, though, came in 2001 when he noticed a significant rise in the number of leg injuries his student-athletes were suffering. "By the time we were halfway through the season, we had a bunch of kids with shin splints and stress fractures," he says. "This was always an issue, but it was becoming a more major one."
"A track's surface does not solely contribute to shin splints," clarifies Bundy. "But since the new track has been poured, the number of kids experiencing shin splits has dropped significantly and the number of stress fractures has also been reduced. So that's something that really made the upgrade important: keeping our student-athletes healthy."
Bundy began his research by talking with surface companies about the types of material available, their maintenance needs, product quality and longevity, installation prices, the track's subsurface construction, and associated costs. "The pricing varied, depending on the thickness of the surface we wanted," Bundy explains. "Ours is a half-inch. There is quite a bit of difference from company to company in regards to their installation processes, cost-management measures, and what-else requirements."
He decided a polyurethane surface best fit the track program's needs, and ultimately, Precision Sports Surfaces won the school's bid, projecting a total renovation cost of $139,000. The track program's main fundraising efforts in 2003 consisted of hosting meets and vending at NASCAR's Daytona races. While the money raised was significant, it wasn't enough to cover the initial start-up cost. So, Bundy turned to his parent-volunteers for support.
"Officially, we don't have an athletic department-wide booster club nor do we have an organized booster club for just track," says Bundy. "What we have is what you can classify as a 'parents' club'about 15-20 parents involved on a regular basis who are not only involved in fundraising, but help out as track officials."
Sandy Myers was the first parent Bundy approached. "She did the motivating because she knew I always wanted a rubber track," Bundy says. "When we first discussed a new track, she started asking, 'Well, how much would it cost?' I told her the cost varied and gave her a ballpark figure: $50,000 to $200,000 with many, many options in between. She then looked into the different possibilities to raise money."
One idea Myers devised was a fundraiser called "One of 1,000," where the program set a goal of collecting 1,000 $100 donations. "Sandy created letters to send to area businesses and AHS alumni, and it was the only time we solicited directly to the community," says Bundy. "We got a good response. We didn't reach the goal of 1,000, but we did collect around $25,000."
Americrown Service Corporation is the licensed food, beverage, and merchandise company started by Lesa France Kennedy, President of International Speedway Corporation. IRC owns and operates 12 NASCAR and IRL speedways, including Daytona International Speedway, which hosts the Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400. Americrown provides the catering services at each of the speedways IRC operates.
Americrown offers nonprofit groups opportunities to run approximately 80 vendor spaces during the two NASCAR races at Daytona, and earn a 10-percent commission from the groups' total vending sales. Since 2002, the track program has averaged $9,500 per Daytona 500 race. The teams only recently began working the Pepsi 400, which is half the number of days as the 500. Last year, the program made $4,000 at this event.
The idea of being a vendor at the speedway came from a former AHS wrestling coach and former high school cheerleader sponsor, Debbie Samstrom. Both sport programs made $5,000 while working Daytona. In 1998, Samstrom passed this information onto Bundy and asked the track coach if his teams would be interested in partnering with their programs at the next race.
"My concern was that not only was I going to ask my track parents to work the meets, but I had to drag them up to Daytona and have them do more difficult stuff, as far as being on their feet all day long," Bundy says. It took over a year for Samstrom to convince Bundy.
The groups' vending space was outside the gates, and the track program's share came to $700. Surprised by the achievement and overall experience, Bundy contacted Americrown about setting up his teams' own concession stand for the following year, inside the event fence.
"For the last five years, we've been near Weatherlyone of the main gates," says Bundy."So as soon as people get in, they see our stand, and we pick up a lot of fan support. When we went to the bigger stand, we went from 10 parents, then 15, to now 24."
Debbie and Rick Allen and Tom and Debbie Andrewsstaples of the track program for 10 yearsvolunteer their time manning the program's speedway concession areas. During the Daytona 500, Bundy, the Allens, the Andrews, and other volunteers work six dates: the Bud Shootout, the four-day Speed Week, and race day. The Bud Shootout is the program's busiest day, raising up to $40,000 total sales. "That's a typical day, if it's not raining," says Bundy. "It's very busy at times: We doing nothing for four hours straight but grill and put food out as fast as you can."
Because of his success, Bundy is paying it forward. "I know how hard it is to fundraise, so I have passed the information on to other teams in our county to help them generate money for their programs and see if they'd like to team up and split the commission."
In late 2002, Santa checked off Bundy's Christmas wish of showing him where to find money for the track. "Our county was looking into increasing the sales tax and one of the parents mentioned to me that city administrators were holding a meeting about proposing a one-cent sales tax increase," explains Bundy. "We wondered what we could do to acquire some of that money for the track."
Bundy attended the meeting and ran into a friend of his, Lauralee Thompson, who was involved with the county commission. Thompson told Bundy about a $200,000 grant the county's tourism development council was awarding groups (public and private) that could demonstrate how their organizations promote local tourism and spur economic growth. Bundy immediately thought of the track meets.
At that time, AHS had just hosted several larger-scale invitationals, one of which included 14 boys' and girls' teams from Jacksonville, Miami, and Orlando. Additionally, a coach from Cincinnati had recently called Bundy, looking for a springtime meet for his team to participate in.
Knowing how quickly travel expenses can add up and how coaches have to plan their budgets, Bundy asked track parent Kathy Riley, who is also an attorney, to help write a proposal for the tourism grant on behalf of the track program. She agreed, focusing the proposal on the regional and potential interstate commerce Astronaut's invitationals and meets would afford the Titusville community.
"So what all this means," says Bundy, "is that you're looking at 30-plus schools traveling to Titusville, looking for hotels. Track meets take awhile, and some schools will stay the night before, the day of, and the day after. Then teams come in to eat at our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and some of the out-of-state schools make it more than just an athletic trip. They go out to the space center, they run at Cocoa Beach, et cetera."
The proposal was submitted in three weeks and a month later, both coach and attorney were notified that the largest portion of the grant$50,000had been awarded to the track teams. "One important lesson I learned from this is that the money's out there," Bundy says. "You just have to look for it."
KEEPING THE BALL ROLLING
The final fundraising component came from Pepsi USA. Since Astronaut is a "Pepsi school," the soft drink company provides matching grants reflective of the fundraising efforts by school organizations and sport teams. Bundy applied the "One of 1,000" campaign, NASCAR commission earnings, and the home meet concession sales toward the Pepsi grant. The company ended up donating $35,000 to the track program.
While the Pepsi grant was being processed, engineers surveyed AHS's track facilities. It was determined that in order to meet state regulations, three areas needed modifications: the lanes had to be metrically marked to 440 meters, the curves had to be brought in, and the high-jump pit needed new concrete. This pushed the final price tag to $169,000, roughly $50,000 more than what the track team had in its bank account. Bundy asked his athletic director, who had supported the track program with all of its fundraising efforts, to speak to the school board about obtaining a loan. After reviewing the track program's proposalwhich contained some of the information from the tourism grantthe school board agreed to supply the loan.
By the end of the 2006-07 school year, AHS's track and field program grossed a little more than $20,000, $9,000 of which went to pay program expenses and $8,000 of which went toward paying off the loan.
Bundy puts it bluntly as to how important parents have been to making the track program successful. "To be honest, I don't see how anyone can do without them," he says. "There has to be a good, strong relationship between coaches and parents because you can't live without them. In my case, I host a lot of meets, so a lot parents get involved with the officiating and some continue with the officiating after their kids are gone. A lot of the officials at the district and state levelsand even national levelsstarted out with booster clubs. I have parents who have worked the Olympic games in Los Angeles and Atlanta, the Paralympic games, and collegiate indoor and outdoor events.
"Luckily for us," he continues, "when parents are asked to help out with officiating, coaches know the meets at Astronaut are called fair, which keeps them coming back to compete. And when it comes to our facility, I don't know how we could have done it if it hadn't been for parent involvement, because that's really where the ball got rolling."